The Cleveland Indians promoted infielder Jose Ramirez to the major leagues this month. He was playing in the Midwest League a year ago. He turned 21 last week and is currently the fourth-youngest player on any major league roster. Despite his youth, he hasn't received a lot of attention outside Indians circles. Let's change that and see what they have here.
Ramirez was signed by the Indians as a free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2009. He made his pro debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2011, hitting .325/.351/.448 with 12 steals in 194 at-bats. He opened 2012 with three games for Mahoning Valley in the New York-Penn League, but was quickly promoted to Low-A Lake County, where he trashed Midwest League pitching with a .354/.403/.462 mark in 277 at-bats, stealing 15 bases, with a 24/26 BB/K ratio.
This impressed the Indians enough that he was moved up to Double-A for 2013, skipping High-A. He played 113 games for Akron this year, hitting .272/.325/.349 with 38 steals, 39 walks, and 41 strikeouts in 482 at-bats. In the big leagues so far this month, he's 4-for-12 (.333) with two walks and two strikeouts.
Ramirez isn't big: he's listed at just 5-9, 165. A switch-hitter, his best tool is plus/plus running speed, as well as simple athleticism. He lacks distance power and saw his wRC+ decline from 145 in 2012 to just 88 this year; he didn't show much pop against Double-A pitching. Scouts feared this would happen which is part of the reason he didn't rank too highly on most prospect lists pre-season.
That said, he still made contact, kept his strikeout rates reasonable, and makes a good-faith effort to work counts. He lacks the physical projection to become a power hitter, but given his young age and his ability to make contact, I would not write off his bat. Similar players have been known to blossom as hitters when they get into their mid-20s.
Ramirez has played second base, third base, and shortstop. His arm and range fit best at second, but his skills will work as a utility guy. He is still learning to use his speed effectively on the bases and needs to improve his stealing efficiency, but this is also something that should improve with experience.
He probably needs a year of Triple-A to improve the stealing and perhaps gain some additional strength. Overall, he's not going to hit .350 at higher levels, but I think there's more here than his .674 OPS in Double-A implies. He should improve enough to be a speedy utility guy at least, and there's some chance he can be a regular second baseman. The Indians agree; he wouldn't be in the majors otherwise.