June 19th, 2016 will be a day that will forever go down in Cleveland Sports history. On that faithful day, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals to defeat the Golden State Warriors in game 7 of the NBA Finals to end Cleveland’s 52-year sporting championship drought. If the Indians keep playing the way that they are playing, June 19th might go down in Cleveland sports lore for a different reason. Just a few hours before Lebron James had the block of his life, Jose Ramirez was looking for the hit of his life.
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The Cleveland Indians played a day game against the Chicago White Sox on the 19th, and it was a tightly contested game the whole way through, eventually leading to the Indians came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied at two. Rajai Davis led the inning off with a double, Jason Kipnis moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt, and then two walks and a pop out later the bases were loaded with two outs for Jose Ramirez. Ramirez then proceeded to smash a 0-2 pitch past White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu to give the Indians a 3-2 walk-off win.
The Indians are 13-3 in the 16 games since Ramirez’s hit, and at one point won 14 games in a row, which has lead to the Indians to currently have a record 51-33. That walk-off win has jumpstarted the Indians season, and it also serves as tangible proof that the Indians patience regarding their homegrown players is starting to pay off.
Obviously, the biggest homegrown names right now on the Indians roster are all-stars Danny Salazar (drafted in 2006) and Fransisco Lindor (drafted in 2011), but it does not stop there, as the Indians roster is filled with homegrown players or players brought on excellent trades. Josh Tomlin is the gold standard for Indians homegrown players. He was drafted by the tribe in 2006 and made his debut with the Indians in 2010. He has pitched in bigs in every year since and is enjoying a career year this year. Infield staple Jason Kipnis was drafted by the Tribe in 2009, and quickly ascended through the minor league ranks to find success in the majors. Tomlin is not the only pitcher who the Indians brought up through their minor league ranks. Closer Cody Allen was drafted by the Indians in 2011 and is now a top tier closer in the MLB.
But not all of the Indians players have success in the majors as soon as they get there, which is where the patience part of this comes in. It wasn’t always daisies for the aforementioned Ramirez. His tenure with the Indians started in 2013 and 2014, as he played in 85 games combined in the two years, batting .273 with 2 home runs and 17 RBI. Ramirez then broke camp in 2015 as the starting shortstop, which caused controversy as he was picked over Francisco Lindor, delaying Lindor’s MLB debut by two months. Ramirez never found his footing and was eventually demoted after hitting .176 in 44 games. He was then called up for 52 games after the all-star break, and he bumped his average up above the Mendoza line, as he batted .228.
Now the Indians could have easily just cut their losses and given up on Ramirez this offseason, but instead, they decided to let Mike Aviles go and turn Ramirez into their super-utility player, converting him into an outfielder while still sprinkling him into the infield when needed. This has worked out amazingly for the Indians so far, as Ramirez is currently batting .299 with four home runs and 34 RBI, and has been excellent in the field, no matter what position he’s playing.
Ramirez is not the only young reclamation project that the Indians have on this roster this year; Lonnie Chisenhall was drafted by the Indians in the first round of the 2008 draft, and many viewed him to be the Indians third baseman of the future. Chisenhall made his debut in 2011, and hit .255 in 212 at-bats, and showed some pop, as he hit seven home runs with 22 RBI. He then played sparingly in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, which lead to him being the starting third baseman for the Indians to start the 2015 season. Chisenhall then proceeded to hit .209 in 52 games, leading to him being demoted and Giovanny Urshela being called up to play third base. Chisenhall then (like Ramirez) learned how to play the outfield. He was then called up at the end of the year, and played well, as he hit .288 in 54 games and made some amazing plays in the outfield. Chisenhall is starting to put it together this year as well, as so far he is hitting .311 with five home runs and 25 RBI.
But not all Indians rookies struggle as soon as they get to the majors. Francisco Lindor batted .313 in 99 games, also adding 12 home runs and 51 RBI in his rookie year, leading to him finishing second in rookie of the year voting, behind Houston Astro’s shortstop Carlos Correa. Lindor is going above and beyond that success in his sophomore campaign, as he’s batting .299 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI, and continues to make insane plays in the field. Tyler Naquin has also been a rookie success story for the Indians this season, as he is batting .313 with seven home runs and 19 RBI in 54 games, and was even named the American League rookie of the month for June.
Now all of this could blow up in the Indians face, as they are relying on players who have struggled in the past, and have never been in this spot before. But the Indians also have key veteran players who can help build chemistry in their clubhouse, and keep everything from imploding. The Indians have the perfect mix of young and old talent, and you can thank the front office for that.