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Jose Ramirez and superstardom: While We’re Waiting

On a late evening on June 18th, 2011, Jose Ramirez went 2-for-5, with one double and a stolen base for Mahoning Valley on their opening day. The 19-year old had led the organization in hitting the prior year in the Arizona League, hitting .325, but nobody knew who the free-agent signing was. I’m sure there were some in the Indians organization who didn’t know who he was.

That same evening, I was working on my nightly prospect report, Around the Farm, for Indians Baseball Insider, and he made such an impact on me, that I listed him as the 13th prospect that night, behind such notables as Juan Romero, Brett Brach, and Kyle Landis. My words? “Not a bad start for a lead-off hitter for Mahoning Valley.”

Indeed, it wasn’t a bad start for Jose Ramirez as a legit prospect not only in Cleveland, but in  Major League Baseball.

You see, Jose Ramirez was never a known commodity.

He wasn’t a known commodity in the Dominican Republic, and he certainly didn’t look the part. He doesn’t look the part now, let alone in 2009, when your Cleveland Indians accidentally scouted him. It’s not a new prospect story. As a matter of fact, it’s about as good a prospect story as you’ll ever here, but the narrative will be familiar, because it sounds like it came right out of a Disney movie.

What’s the story? You see, Jose Ramirez was never scouted. All the scouts saw him, almost every day, because you just don’t miss players in the Dominican Republic. If you’re good, you’re likely to be playing in one of the Major League academies. All 30 teams have them, and on top of that, former big league stars from the Dominican make a habit of starting their own academies as well. But Ramirez was tagged for any of that. He didn’t play in any all start games, and he didn’t have anyone pushing for him to catch on.

He was just a kid, who really worked his ass off.

As the story goes, JRam was a fill-in for an actual prospect at an important series of prospect games. Scouts from every Major League team was there, including the Indians Ramon Pena. In his first two games, the 17-year old had six hits.

Go figure. JRam with two multi-hit games when it counted the most.

He signed with the Indians in 2010 for $50,000 at the age of 17. While that sounds like a lot of money, and that sounds like a young age, in Dominican baseball, both aren’t true. In 2011, the Indians signed Dorssys Paulino to a free agent contract worth $1.1 million.

“Sometimes when you sign for a lot of money, you relax a little,’’ Ramirez said in an interview with the USA Today in 2016. “And the one who gets less money may be more focused and work harder. That’s what I did. There are always people in your neighborhood who may say, ‘You’re too small.’ I never focused on that. I had confidence in myself and kept at it.’’

Once with the Indians, he had that fantastic season in the Arizona Rookie League. He hit .325, with 13 doubles, four triples and a homer. He had 12 stolen bases, but the raw speedster got caught six times. When he debuted with Mahoning Valley the following year, it was clear that while the general public had no clue who this kid was, the Indians knew.

Trust me, they knew, and they handled him like a star, even if we didn’t know it yet.

Follow me here for a second. He played three games at Mahoning Valley.

Three.

He was 19 years old, had played 48 games in the Arizona League, and now three games in the New York/Penn League. In those three games, he had two multi-hit games (the theme, right?), two doubles, and played both shortstop and second base. He then packed his bags for Lake County.

In his first 12 games in Lake County, he had six multi-hit games, including a five-hit game, and two three-hit games. This culminated with a piece I wrote about him on July 4th. My take had changed slightly on the middle infielder.

Jose Ramirez: 2B, Lake County Captains: 3-for-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB:

It’s really fun watching a guy get hot and just start shredding the baseball, and that’s what Jose Ramirez has been doing at Lake County. On a night when seven of the nine Captains’ batters had two hits or more, Ramirez was the only one that had ‘or more.’  Over his past ten games, he has a sick .425/.465/.525 line, and over his past five games, he’s gone 11-for-19, with four runs and three doubles. He’s hitting .356 overall in both Mahoning Valley and Lake County, and after hitting .325 last season in the Arizona League, you’d have to think that he’s starting to be a bit more important to the Indians with regards to being a prospect worth really developing.

“…being a prospect worth really developing.”

Really?

It’s fun to go back and look at the numbers, because it seems silly to think that the Indians didn’t have anything but the Major Leagues tagged for JRam. At age 19, he basically skipped the NY/Penn League, and raked through Lake County for the rest of the year. As always, the High A Carolina League is always the true barometer of a player in the system though. It’s a league with only eight teams (at the time), and a league in which the pitchers are excessively knowledgable about the hitters, and vice versa. The Indians always use that level as the mountain.

Climb it, and the door opens as a legit candidate.

Living in North Carolina at the time, and covering the then Carolina Mudcats, I couldn’t wait to finally get to watch this kid play, and earn his way to the upper levels. Here’s what I wrote about JRam during his final game at Lake County:

Jose Ramirez: 2B, Lake County Captains: 3-for-6, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1 SB:

Well, Ramirez ended his regular season with a nine-game hit streak in which his slash line is .475/.500/.675, with nine runs, a double, two triples, a homer, and nine RBI. Overall, he’s hitting .354, and this follows a short season run last year in which he hit .325. I’m not going to say much more here that wasn’t already said time-and-time again throughout the season, but there really isn’t a statistic in this kid’s game that doesn’t translate to being in the discussion with the top prospects. What he does to Carolina pitchers next year will be a big deal though.

Not only was he on my radar, but to me, he was one of their top prospects, and that didn’t change in the playoffs for Lake County either. They didn’t win the league that year, but it wasn’t because of JRam. A couple of weeks later, I wrote this about Ramirez, after his last playoff game.

Jose Ramirez: 2B, Lake County: 2-for-5, 1 2B, 1 RBI:

Ramirez just hasn’t stopped hitting all season, and he did everything he could to carry the Captains today. It didn’t pan out, but what did pan out was Ramirez becoming a player in the prospect pool. If he can continue at this level, he goes from being a question mark, to being a star. Ramirez went 7-for-18 in the playoffs, with three runs, two doubles, a homer and seven RBI in only five ballgames. Boy, I can’t wait to see what he does as he moves forward. I get the feeling that this kid is no fluke.

For what it’s worth, Francisco Lindor went 7-for-21 in the same series. A week later, I made my predictions for the Carolina Mudcats roster, for my weekly column at IBI at the time:

2B: Jose Ramirez: C’mon…the guy we want to see is Ramirez. He hit .325 last season, and he hit .354 this year. Will he continues this in the toughest pitching league in the country? If he does, his blip on the radar turns into a comet. Joe Wendle may find himself here as well, but might he find himself at third?

It never panned out. You see, the Indians decided that it was time to really bump along their diamond-in-the-rough. They did something that I’ve not ever seen them do before. They didn’t do it with Lindor. They aren’t doing it with Mejia, or with an older guy, like Bradley Zimmer. What did they do?

The bumped Jose Ramirez over the Carolina League, and sent him right to Akron. That’s right, Joey Wendle found his way to second base after all, but the 20-year old Jose Ramirez was sent to the high minors, and was 4 1/2 years younger than the average Double A player.

You can sell this however you want to. You can say, “Well, they didn’t have enough room for him in Carolina.” I’d buy that, but if that’s true, for a kid that’s not only hitting .340 in his minor league career thus far, but playing stellar defense, than you bump him down, not up, at 20-years old. You leave him in Lake County.

They didn’t.

Now make no bones about it, 2013 was a trying year for Ramirez in the minors. He didn’t hit over .300 in any of the first three months, as way-older pitching, and nagging injuries got the better of him. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great either.

And then, as it did every other year, it clicked. In July, it just clicked. From July 3 through July 14, Ramirez led the league in hitting over that stretch, by doing the things we’re seeing him do today, in the Majors. He just simply raked. In that ten-game stretch, he had seven multi-hit games, going 22-for-47, with seven doubles, a triple, with three walks, three K’s and seven stolen bases. For those counting at home, he hit .468. Unfortunately, he got hurt.

What did I write about JRam at the time? I rated him as the Indians third best prospect, behind Francisco Lindor and Danny Salazar, and ahead of Clint Frazier.

That caused quite a stir.

Here’s what I said about him at the time, and as you can see, I was struggling to find a player to compare him to…oh, and have a nice chuckle at the “only can pla

As far as Ramirez goes, he’s a completely different story for what I just outlined with Paulino. He HAS that body of work. He hit .354 in Lake County, which is freakish. He hit .300 in Winter League ball, and in the AFL, and really earned the right to skip the Carolina League.

Now, the Eastern League has fooled Ramirez up to this point, but you are seeing exactly what he’s done at every level right now when he figures things out: he’s raking. I know this is a relatively random date, but it’s clicked. Since June 29th, he’s second in the league in hitting, with a .406 average. Since July 3, he’s leading the league, with a .468 average. He has nine multi-hit games in the stretch since the 29th, and that covers only 14 total games. He also is riding a 10-game hit streak. Now he’s hurt, but you see my point. It’s clicking, and when it does, he hits the ball, and hits it well. You combine that with the fact that he now has more walks than K’s, and combine that with a career .363 OBP (and will climb), and you can really start to get excited. Add to that the 33 stolen bases this year, and the realization is that there’s so much more to Ramirez. No, he doesn’t have the power of RRod, but I really think RRod’s power is moderate, while Ramirez’s ability past that is plus, and will continue to improve.

I’m not trying to put down RRod by any stretch…just saying Ramirez has the look of a guy like Luis Castillo or Placido Polanco to me. That may not excite many, but those cats could play baseball, and were really good for a really long time. He may be better than those two, but if he’s just as good as those two, I’ll be ecstatic. The problem is that he can only really play middle infield because of that size, so we shall see.

I just think he’s special, and while I think RRod is a really good ballplayer, I don’t think he’s ultimately going to be special.

Now you can harass me all you want about my comps to Luis Castillo and Placido Polanco back then, but c’mon, take a look at their careers. Obviously, Castillo was a rock at second for his entire career, so that comp defensively is flawed, but look at Polanco. Here’s a guy that played second, short and third defensively, and was a decent offensive player in his day, without the speed.

Obviously there are differences there, and obviously, I think we can see some upside there with JRam, especially with the power. But who knew back then that JRam was going to hit with power? Nobody did…nobody…so I’m okay with that.

Now I can keep walking down this path for you, but really, that 2013 season is where it should end.

Why?

Because the Indians again did something with JRam that they never do with prospects at his age, and at his level. They brought him up to the big league team, BEFORE THE SEPTEMBER 1ST DEADLINE. Sure, there are ways around calling up a guy after midnight on August 31, and getting him on the playoff roster, but the Indians called him up on August 31, to avoid the hassle.

He was 20.

HE WAS 20!!!!

The average major league at the time was 28, so you do the math. He skipped the New York/Penn League (three games…c’mon). He skipped the Carolina League. Now, he was skipping TRIPLE FREAKIN A COLUMBUS! Why? So they could get him on the playoff roster, just in case.

You know who they didn’t do that with? They didn’t do that with Jason Kipnis, who decimated Carolina League pitching for a half year, and Eastern League for a half year, then crushed Triple A pitching in the playoffs that same year.

The then 23-year old Kip was ready to go for the bigs, right?

Nope, they started him in Columbus, and he didn’t make the big league club until July. Same with Lonnie Chisenhall, and both were top prospects from the start.

Yes, JRam needed to get a shake down in the minors the following year, but there are reasons for that. He was playing shortstop as a full-time big leaguer, and he knew the writing was on the wall there. He wasn’t playing with the charisma that you have likely grown to love about JRam over the past three seasons. His fire wasn’t there. Maybe he was pissed that he was a part-timer at short eventually. Maybe he was pissed about the utility garbage. Hell, maybe the then 21-year old just needed a few months, as he did in Double A, the year prior, to figure it all out.

Who knows.

But he figured it all out.

Today, Jose Ramirez is 16th in the league in offensive fWAR, one ahead of Mookie Betts, for those counting at home. Not only has Ramirez arrived, but he’s starting to knock down the doors of those that believed in him before anyone else, as I did way back in the day. He is so good defensively, and boy, it was fun watching writers hammer his defense over the years.

He’s good, and don’t show me any metrics that say anything different. He’s versatile, and that versatility will likely make him as valuable as any member of this roster, including Francisco Lindor.

A few years ago, John Grimm mentioned Jose Altuve as a ceiling for Jose Ramirez. A lot of people thought that was insane. A lot of people thought that was crazy. I didn’t. I’ve mentioned it since then, every chance I could get. I hate comps. I loathe them, but I make them for Ramirez because not a lot of people outside of Cleveland know who the hell he is. He plays in Cleveland, and honestly, even though now everyone in Cleveland loves him, there was a time that nobody, other than those that really paid attention, knew who he was.

In 2009, he proved to the Indians they should sign him, and they did. In 2011, he proved to the Indians that not only was he signed, but he was a star, and they moved him along, faster than Lindor because they knew he could handle it. He skipped three leagues on his way to the majors the first time. In 2014, Cleveland fans shredded JRam as a farce of a player, because he struggled that first time through. So, he earned his way back, and gave Paul Molitor some fun by the end of the year.

And he hasn’t looked back since.

Oh, and what about that Jose Altuve comp? Here’s today’s stats:

He hasn’t looked back indeed…

#JRaMVP

My bit on Chris Cornell…

Chris Cornell committed suicide, and I don’t know why. Let’s just get it out there. Maybe it was drugs. Maybe it was the drugs he took to stay off drugs. Maybe he was on both the drugs, and the drugs he took to stay off drugs.

I’m not trying to be funny here, just trying to show you how complicated life can be. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, or poor. It doesn’t matter if you are in the limelight or out. Life is complicated.

I didn’t know Chris Cornell. I had only met him as a fan in the crowd of four different shows, all throughout his career. I saw him in Soundgarden before they hit big, at Lollapalooza, at Blossom, almost 25-years ago to the day. I went to see Pearl Jam and the Peppers, and was rocked off the stage by Cornell’s Soundgarden. I saw Soundgarden again, in 1994, at Nautica Stage. I was blessed to see Audioslave in a small venue in 2003, thanks to a music-journalist friend of mine, who needed a pal to join him who lived in the Southeast. I was five hours away, but close enough. I saw him in Lakewood in 2015, for a solo acoustic show, that was utterly amazing.

He was an amazing musician. I’ll leave it there. Our own Andrew Schnitkey, covered this a few weeks back, and so did Craig Lyndall, right here in WWW, and while I have a lot more to say about it, I think I always will, so why put it here.

In recent days, his daughter Toni wrote a letter to her Dad. You can find it here.

Here’s Chris Cornell’s last video. That was hard to say, and this is hard to watch…for me at least.