Jose Ramirez keeps hitting as he moves up the ladder
Diminutive middle infielder rises through system on the strength of his bat
When you think of the prototypical baseball player, a few images probably come to mind: tall, muscular, fast, top physical condition, etc.
In other words, baseball players are not supposed to look like you, me, and Jose Ramirez.
Ramirez is roughly my size at 5’9”, 165 pounds and generally does not fit the stereotype of a baseball player. Going into the 2012 season, he was unknown even in his own organization and went unranked in IBI’s Top 100 prospects.
Amazing the difference one year can make.
After a year where he had a .354/.403/.462 line, three home runs, 15 steals, and a 26:24 SO:BB in 67 games at Low-A Lake County, Ramirez has established himself as an elite prospect and now seems on the fast track through the system. How can this be?
"He's just a ballplayer," Akron Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "He knows how to play the game."
Notice the words “Akron Aeros manager” there. The front office thought so much of Ramirez that they allowed him to skip High-A Carolina entirely, starting him off in Double-A.
The jump from High-A to Double-A is considered the hardest outside of making the transition to the major leagues, so making that jump even harder cannot be taken lightly.
"I was surprised that they sent him here," Rodriguez said. "The Carolina League is a very tough league to play. I think it's as close as you're going to get in the minor leagues to the big leagues."
"He's really confident in his abilities," hitting coach Jim Rickon said. "He's got a really good feel for the game as a young 20-year-old. It's special.
"The feel he has to put an approach together at that age is awesome to watch."
Ramirez made the front office's decision to let him skip the Carolina League easier with his performance in winter ball. While playing in the Dominican Winter League, a very competitive league with plenty of high-level talent, Ramirez was a full-time starter and was more than competent.
He posted a .312/.389/.362 line with 22:18 SO:BB and 10 steals in 38 games in the Dominican and feels confident that the experience will help him in Akron.
“The league in the Dominican is ranked at a high level of experience,” Ramirez said, with starting pitcher Paolo Espino serving as his translator. “It's a good experience because I was facing [a lot of] big league pitchers.”
So what about Ramirez’s hitting approach allows him success against this upper-level pitching?
"He's got tremendous bat-to-ball ability," Rickon said. "I was lucky enough to watch him play last year as well... He gets good pitches to hit and when he gets them, he puts a good swing on it. He doesn't try to do too much.
"He knows who he is as a player and how he fits on the team. He helps you win with what he brings to the table."
Ramirez has a ton of talent, though if he was perfect, he would already be in Cleveland. Rodriguez sees a few things that Ramirez can work on, including using more than his raw speed on the basepaths.
"I was expecting more speed," Rodriguez said. "[But] I think he will improve. It doesn't necessarily have to be the speed, but the mechanics of running. That will make him faster, getting jumps on the pitchers, and because his baseball sense is so good I can see him getting better and better."
That rawness in Ramirez’s toolset is a byproduct of being so young -- he is only 20 years old -- but it is also a result of him not being the most physically gifted player. Part of the reason he was so unknown before he forced his way into the conversation last year is how he grades out to scouts.
"As a scout, you try to put numbers [on him]," Rodriguez said. "His arm is well-below average, his defense is barely average, he's [an] average run[ner]. [But] he's just a good ballplayer. He knows how to play the game."
Most of the time, scouts can get a good picture of a player. Every once and awhile, though, players can slip through the cracks, which is exactly what happened with Ramirez.
Since he got his shot last year, all Ramirez has done is hit. He got a hit in 52 of 70 games in 2012. He has a hit in nine of 13 games this season, including a six game hitting streak to start the year. So will Ramirez ever slow down?
"I hope I get a hit every single game," Ramirez said. "But baseball, it goes good sometimes, bad sometimes. Hopefully I get a hit every single game. I'm going to try."
If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.