At the beginning of the season, we are sure you could have taken a lot of action on the Cleveland Indians being in first place by seven games on August 21st if people would have known Michael Brantley would only play 11 games this season.
Brantley is, after all, one of the best hitters in the game. He’s a guy who puts his bat on the ball, has some pop, and is one of the better hitters in baseball with men in scoring position.
Surely, if he were missing, the Indians’ struggling offense (as it was thought of before the season started) would not be able to score enough to put the Tribe in contention for the post-season.
Then again, at that point, no one was figuring Jose Ramirez for anything but a “super utility” role.
Coming into the season, Terry Francona planned to use the switch-hitter in the outfield and infield, being able to give breaks to Brantley, Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and play 3B to give Juan Uribe a break.
Brantley’s injury forced Ramirez into basically an everyday role in LF and at 3B, and when Uribe didn’t hit at all, and GM Mike Chernoff traded for Brandon Guyer to help in the outfield, the 23-year-old settled in at the hot corner.
While no one expected Ramirez to hit .311 in his first year as a regular, his pedigree in the minors, where he is a .304 hitter lifetime, shows Jose has the ability to hit.
We forget that Ramirez came up at the end of the 2013 season, when he was just 20, to provide speed and defense off the bench for the post-season push. He started that year in Akron where he hit .272.
If not for his speed and the ability to handle three infield spots (2B, SS, 3B), he wouldn’t have been added to the roster.
He started 2014 in AAA and was called up when Jason Kipnis hurt his oblique. He went 2 for 25 until he was sent back to Columbus on May 19th.
He did hit .302 (801 OPS) with the Clippers until he was recalled after Asdrubal Cabrera was traded to Washington at the deadline. He batted .283 with the Indians the rest of the season, establishing himself in the organization.
Keep in mind, that Ramirez was just 21 years old at the time.
Last year, he was handed the shortstop job out of spring training, but didn’t look like the same player that took over for Cabrera the year before. He hit just .176 and struggled in the field.
We believe there were too reasons for that. First, Ramirez is a natural second baseman, not a shortstop and he was also probably looking over his shoulder at the progress of Lindor, the organization’s top prospect.
After Lindor arrived, and Ramirez went back to the utility role, he hit .259 (775 OPS) the rest of the year.
In between, he batted .293 in Columbus.
This year, he feels he belongs in the big leagues, and he is also getting better with age, as most good players do. His average is at .311. His OPS is 821.
The good news is he is still just 23 years old, so it is likely he will continue to improve.
He’s been the key player for the Indians, a team likely to make the post-season.
We have said this before. The best thing to like about this Tribe squad is their two best position players are 22 (Lindor) and 23 (Ramirez).
That bodes well for the window of contention staying open at Progressive Field for a few years.