The short shortstop impressed in his short stint as a starter
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The 2014 Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline saw the Cleveland Indians move two of their more well-known players. Former aceJustin Masterson
was the first out the door, as he was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for 24-year-old outfield prospectJames Ramsey
. Justin then held that door for long time Indians shortstopAsdrubal Cabrera
, who was on his way to Washington to swap places with Nationals prospectZach Walters
. Many fans wondered who would step up to the plate and swing at 58-foot first pitch curveballs in the dirt with runners in scoring position, and also play shortstop with the exit of Cabrera. Some thoughtMike Aviles
. ManagerTerry Francona
had other ideas.
After a short cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2013 that he finished up early in the 2014 season, Jose Ramirez was the one that was called on to fill the void at shortstop. He took the opportunity and ran with it. Ran fast. From first base to second base. Ten times, while only being thrown out once.
He contributed much more than just his 10-11 stolen base clip. Offensively, Ramirez hit .262 with 2 HRs, 17 RBI and 27 runs scored in 68 games. While underwhelming to the naked eye, his bat wasn’t as bad as you would think. He hit 24.4% line drives and 47.3% ground balls, both above league averages and both obviously played very well with his speed. His plate discipline was average to above-average, in terms of percent of pitches swung at outside the strike zone (30.9%) and inside the strike zone (67%). He was also an above average base runner, posting a 0.6 UBR (which doesn’t include the value added by his SBs).
He’s fast. He’s not a black hole in the lineup. But anyone who watched the Indians at the end of the season knows where Jose Ramirez makes his money, and that’s in the infield dirt with a glove on his left hand.
Sep 24, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez (11) celebrates his RBI double in the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Initially I thought Ramirez looked so good simply because Cabrera was so bad for so long; he hadn’t had a positive UZR rating (with significant playing time) since 2008. But it became clear pretty quickly that Ramirez was just flat out good. His 7.0 UZR was well above average. His range runs above average was also very good at 5.9 (Cabrera’s career high is 1.5 in 2008). He doesn’t have a cannon arm, but he makes up for it by being able to get the ball out of his glove quickly with above average hands.
It wasn’t a full season, but it is pretty clear Jose Ramirez can contribute at the major-league level. The question is, in what capacity will the Indians ask him to do this in 2015? At this point, barring any trades, any player playing shortstop in Cleveland is simply keeping the seat warm for top prospect Francisco Lindor. It remains to be seen whether the Indians believe he will be ready to start next season in Cleveland. If not, one would assume Ramirez would hold on to his shortstop duties until then. Once Lindor is ready, however, things get interesting. They could keep Ramirez in Cleveland as a utility man, although this seems unlikely if the Indians decide to pick up Aviles’ option for next year. They could move Jason Kipnis to the outfield and let Ramirez continue to play every day at second base. With their middle infield depth, they could look to deal Ramirez, Erik Gonzalez or even Lindor himself this winter to improve the team in other areas.
A lot of question marks surround the Indians middle infield in the near future. One of those questions was answered in 2014: Jose can play.