Indians 2015 Previews: Jose Ramirez

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Many fans have been clamoring for the arrival of Francisco Lindor for the last year and a half. Some wanted him in Cleveland after his first season in the minors.

While there’s absolutely no doubt that Lindor is a rare talent and has had rave reviews since the Indians drafted him in 2011. the Indians have the luxury to wait until he’s ready for the long-term future.

They have that luxury because of Jose Ramirez.

I can remember hearing fans at games down the stretch of the 2013 season complaining about Terry Francona playing Ramirez at third base in important games. Fast forward to the second half of last season, it seemed maybe a few more people jumped on the 22-year-old’s bandwagon.

We even got to this point this past offseason with Ramirez.

So how did we get from “#PlayAviles!” over Ramirez to him being mentioned in an offseason trade for a 2014 All-Star slugger?

It probably has something to do with his .283 10 doubles, two triples, two homers and 10 stolen bases in the second half of the season after locking down shortstop when Asdrubal Cabrera‘s 14 errors in 93 games. In 68 games and 56 at shortstop, with just four errors.

If that didn’t increase your affinity for the young speedster, these kinds of things do. Even as someone who covered Ramirez in the minors in 2012-2013 and loved his game then, this puts his awesomeness over the top for me.

He also led all of baseball in sacrifice bunts despite just playing in 68 games. I know nobody wants to hear about bunts, but considering the Indians inconsistent and underwhelming offense last year, a little speed and small ball was vital to trying to put runs on the board.

The Indians led baseball in unearned runs allowed, allowing 55 before the trade deadline. After? 16.

Jun 18, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Carolina Mudcats shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) during the first inning of the California League vs Carolina League All Star Game at San Jose Municipal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Granted that’s two months, and the defense got a lot better when Carlos Santana stopped catching and playing third, also with Nick Swisher not playing in the field at all. But Ramirez settling in as a big league shortstop certainly went a long way to helping the Indians pitching staff be one of the best in baseball in the second half.

In overall tools, Lindor certainly seems to be a sure bet to supersede Ramirez’s game. Outside of power, Lindor’s game rates well above average in every category. His makeup is certainly a plus-plus. Nobody will outwork him, he’s got a great attitude and a great teammate.

However, he’s had a grand total of 38 games played at Triple-A Columbus. He performed pretty well there (.273 five homers, 14 RBI). The only negatives to point out last year in his game were some rushed throws that are fixable and being caught seven times in 10 chances stealing at Triple-A.

Pundit such as ESPN’s David Schoenfield and Buster Olney like the Indians chances this season. With such expectations, why should they rush their top prospect into an everyday role in an important season at the chance of it being too early?

Consider this 2011 piece showing that the bust rate for shortstop prospects at 69 percent.

Both Ramirez and Lindor are switch hitters. Lindor’s hit tool rates higher, has better range and probably a better arm. That’s why long-term, Lindor is the answer at shortstop. Ramirez has already settled in and has had success. He’s certainly a better fit to start opening day than using Mike Aviles even semi-full time at shortstop.

But Ramirez has not only hit and played well at every level the Indians have put him at, he’s thrived.

He burst onto the in 2012 to help the Low-A Lake County Captains make the playoffs by hitting .354/.403/.464 with 15 steals and joined Lindor in the Captains double play combination. He was never on anybody’s prospect list, not even as a sleeper.

About halfway into the second half of the season in Lake County, some people wondered why Ramirez wasn’t up all season. A few team officials wondered the same thing when asked about it.

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At 20 years old he skipped High-A to go straight to Double-A Akron and hit .272 and stole 38 bases. Then by September, he was starting meaningful games for the Indians.

The Indians aren’t ones to rush prospects, not since Brandon Phillips anyway. Certainly, they are not going to bring Lindor up too early, see him struggle and then have to send him back down for more seasoning. I don’t need any stats or graphs to show you that it’s a lot easier to help a prospect settle into the big league level by bringing up when he can stick, not having to send him back down. Not that Lindor wouldn’t rebound from such an issue with his makeup, but do the Indians even want to start his free agent clock?

(Insert #DolanzCheap comment here)

If the Indians were to call up Lindor around June or July after his potential Super-2 period passed, Ramirez can give the Indians exactly what Lindor could in those first three or four months. Ramirez’s speed, phenomenal contact rate (86.8 percent), defense will give the Indians exactly what they need out of the position even if he plays all season. That second half .283 average wasn’t extremely fluky (.322 BABIP). Overall he was overall .297 for the season thanks to a .091 first half clip. While he may be due for a little regression, his speed should help keep him closer to .322 than .297.

Ramirez and Lindor have been one of the best heartthrob double-play combinations this side of Omar Vizquel and Robbie Alomar.

Maybe one day we’ll see them together, depending on what the Indians do long term with Jason Kipnis. Some fans already want to see Kipnis in the outfield so the combo can be reunited. Lindor has said numerous times how much he loves playing shortstop next to Ramirez and his best position is probably second base.

For right now – Ramirez is the shortstop the Indians need.

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