Orbiting Cleveland: Gauging Jose Ramirez’s value

As the end of the month approaches, the attention of almost every Cleveland Indians fan is centered right on the playoff race.

That’s for good reason, too.

Who would have thought that just one year removed from a 68-94 season, the Indians would find themselves with a 71-62 record and in the thick of the American League Wild Card race. It’s quite remarkable and just goes to show the impact that a new, quality manager like Terry Francona can have on a ballclub.

Yet, while the playoff race is sure to be full of excitement, there is another storyline for Tribe fans to pay attention to as August turns to September. What I refer to, of course, is the promotion of minor league players as teams’ rosters expand from 25 men to 40.

The IBI’s Tony Lastoria already covered this at length earlier this week when he touched on potential roster callups, but of all the players he mentioned, perhaps none are more intriguing than infielder Jose Ramirez.

For one reason or another, Ramirez has become one of the most popular players in the entire Indians’ system during the past year or so. Perhaps it’s because his rise seemed to come from out of nowhere. After all, everyone loves a good underdog story.

Prior to the start of the 2012 season, Ramirez was unranked in Lastoria’s Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider Top 100 Prospects & More. One year later, Ramirez found himself ranked as the number four prospect in the Tribe’s entire system. That’s an immense jump, and it obviously took one heckuva performance to make such a drastic move.

That’s clearly the other reason why so many have become enamored with Ramirez — his performance to date. The kid can simply play, and he’s been impressive at every stop across the road.

Ramirez currently boasts a .273/.327/.351 line in 112 games with the Akron Aeros. Ramirez has also impressed in other ways as he has 38 stolen bases on the year, and he’s drawn 39 walks while striking out just 41 times. For a 20-year-old at the Double-A level, those numbers are simply remarkable. There was some concern prior to the season that Ramirez might not be able to make the transition to the Double-A level, especially since he skipped the High-A level altogether, but it appears as if those fears were misguided.

In reality, maybe no one should have ever doubted Ramirez. This was, after all, the guy who hit .354/.403/.462 in 67 games with Single-A Lake County in 2012 and then followed up that performance by hitting .303/.384/.380 in 60 games in the Dominican Winter League.

With plus speed, plus defense and the ability to hit for a high average, Ramirez has the potential become essentially the ideal Major League utilityman.

But what if he can become more?

That’s exactly the question we’re going to try to answer.

Plain and simple, Ramirez is never going to hit for much power. With Lake County in 2012, he posted an ISO of .108. This year, that number has been down all the way to .078.

Yet, while his one major weakness may be his lack of power, Ramirez has such a multitude of strengths that seem to more than make up for it.

Of all his strengths, the one that stands out the most is his plate discipline. To be blunt, Ramirez does not strike out. His K% of 7.8 is incredibly advance for a player his age, and it becomes even more impressive when you consider that he skipped the High-A level entirely.

It’s difficult to find players so adept at limiting their strikeouts, but that’s exactly the skill that Ramirez possesses. That attribute alone seems to at least present a case that Ramirez could one day be an everyday second baseman in the Majors.

For further evidence, let’s compare Ramirez’s K% to the K% for all the regular offense contributors on the 2013 Indians.

As you can tell, Ramirez’s K% is noticeably better than any current member of the Indians. Of course, there are a number of variables to consider here.

We have to remind ourselves that we’re comparing the K% of a Double-A player to that of Major League players. When you consider that the Major League players are facing much better pitchers day in and day out, it’s easy to see why their K% would be so much higher.

With that being said though, we must also remind ourselves that Ramirez is a mere 20 years old. He skipped the High-A level altogether, and it’s incredible to see him perform this way given his age and the level of play that he’s at.

As he gets older and matures, it seems reasonable to conclude that Ramirez would probably only continue to make strides in this department. He’s already shown that he’s ahead of the curve for his age, so that trend would likely continue.

To be honest, in regard to hitting, the current Indians player that Ramirez probably best compares to is Michael Brantley. Like Brantley, Ramirez may have little to no power, but also like Brantley, he’s almost always going to give you a quality at-bat, and we’ve seen how important that can be in this game.

Ramirez would not have the prototypical power that you would expect from an infielder, but Brantley also does not have the prototypical power that you would expect from a corner outfielder, yet we’ve seen him still have much success.

In addition to his plate discipline, Ramirez also seems as if he could one day be an everyday player because of his variety of other skills — hitting, speed and defense.

His average of .273 may seem a tad underwhelming, but two things need to be considered. Again, remember his age and the league he’s playing in, and also keep in mind that Ramirez’s BABIP of .292 is 50 points lower than any other BABIP that he has posted in his minor league career. In other words, Ramirez has been somewhat unlucky, and that number will assuredly increase.

Ramirez’s speed speaks for itself as he already has 38 steals this season, but his other impressive skill is his defense. Unfortunately, advanced defensive statistics are not available for minor league players, but by all accounts, Ramirez is an outstanding defender with a glove that would definitely translate to the Majors.

It appears as if Ramirez could have many of the skills needed from an everyday Major League infielder, but there could be just one thing, rather person, standing in his way — Jason Kipnis.

Second base is definitely Ramirez’s best defensive position, and if he were to ever become a Major League regular, one would expect that he would accomplish that task as a second baseman. However, Kipnis is an All-Star second baseman, so one would think that the Indians would not be open to moving him to a different position. Maybe they should be though.

In a recent discussion, the IBI’s Jim Pete, who also happens to be a big fan of Ramirez, suggested that the Indians should look to moving Kipnis to the outfield so that Ramirez could eventually man second base. At first, this may seem like a scoff-worthy notion, but is it really?

Kipnis played outfield for the Arizona Sun Devils before the Indians converted him to a second baseman after they drafted him in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft.

Kipnis has definitely made the transition to second base, but there remains some skepticism in regard to his defensive ability. According to FanGraphs, Kipnis’ UZR of -1.6 and his UZR/150 of -1.8 ranks 16thout of 21 eligible second basemen. Ramirez could probably post superior marks than Kipnis in this area.

Also, moving Kipnis to the outfield, possibly as a right fielder, may not be all that bad of a move. Kipnis’ bat certainly would translate to the position, and his defense probably would as well. In fact, given his speed and arm, he might even potentially profile as a plus defender in right field. There is then the question of what would happen to Drew Stubbs, but a move like this could possibly make Stubbs expendable or relegate him to the fourth outfielder role where he would undoubtedly flourish.

Of course, we may be getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. Ramirez has yet to ever play in the Major Leagues, and we’re still not even sure if he will indeed find himself among the September callups.

However, the one sure conclusion that can be made is that it’s important to not overlook or discount Ramirez. He’s made incredible strides in the past year, and it’s not inconceivable to believe that he could come to Majors and immediately start to rake.

From what we know, the Indians’ front office does not look at him as anything more than a possible Major League utility option, but what exactly can we take that for anyhow? Just over a year ago, the Indians’ front office did not see him as anything more than minor league fodder, and we all know how that turned out.

The bottom line is that if Ramirez comes to the Majors and does perform as he has at every other stop, then the Indians may want to consider looking at him as an everyday player, even if that means moving Kipnis to the outfield.

Ramirez may not have the same reputation of top prospect Francisco Lindor. He also certainly is not as electrifying as top pitching prospect Danny Salazar.

Yet, there is arguably no prospect with more polish than Ramirez. Here’s hoping we get to see some of that polish in the next few days.

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