Third baseman Jose Ramirez has been one of the key cogs of success for the American League champion Cleveland Indians in 2016. In 152 games he hit .312/.363/.462 with 46 doubles, 11 homers, 22 stolen bases, and a 44/62 BB/K ratio in 565 at-bats. That came out to 4.8 fWAR. And he's still just 24 years old.
A reader asked me to review how Ramirez was seen when he was a prospect, so let's do that.
Ramirez first came to notice when he hit .325/.351/.448 in the Arizona Rookie League in 2011. He followed up in 2012 with a .354/.403/.462 tear through 67 games in the Midwest League. In 2013 I filed this report in the Baseball Prospect Book:
SLEEPER ALERT!! While everyone is talking about Francisco Lindor, Dorssys Paulino, and Ronny Rodriguez when Indians infield prospects are discussed, Jose Ramirez is sneaking up on us. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, Ramirez has hit the shit out of the baseball in North America, showing a mature contact hitting approach, decent plate discipline, pop to the gaps, and speed on the bases. Previously a shortstop, he moved over to second base in deference to Lindor last year and thrived, posting an amazing .993 fielding percentage while demonstrating plenty of range and reasonable arm strength. That kind of reliability is very rare for such a young player, especially when coupled with good defensive tools. He was age-appropriate for the Midwest League at age 19, so we can’t say this was some sort of calendar-related fluke. Ramirez doesn’t have big home run power, but that’s not a requirement in a second baseman and he does everything else well. Amazingly, despite his age, performance, and athleticism, he does not show up highly on prospect lists. Scouts are skeptical about his small size (listed 5-9 but probably smaller) and many don’t think he’ll hold up at higher levels. You would think that the Jose Altuve example would give evaluators pause, especially since Altuve (who is even smaller than Ramirez) was in the Appy League at age 19 and hadn’t emerged yet. In any event, maybe the scouts are right and Ramirez won’t pan out, but given the balance of evidence I think he needs a lot more attention than he’s received, and a year from now this grade may look too low. Grade C+.
Ramirez jumped to the Double-A Eastern League in 2013, skipping High-A. He wasn't terrific but he held his own at .272/.325/.349 with 38 steals but 16 caught stealing. He performed well enough to impress the Indians and he received a late trial in the majors, going 4-for-12 in 15 games. Entering 2014, here was my view:
I had Jose Ramirez rated as a Sleeper Alert! guy last year. He didn’t have an outstanding year in Double-A, but he played well enough to earn a late promotion to the major leagues ahead of some more heralded prospects in the system. His makeup is first-class and that was probably part of the reason why he got the call. Ramirez is a speedy line drive hitter with decent strike zone judgment. He doesn’t have much power but that’s not his strength and he doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to make it into a strength. He stays within himself and lashes line drives around the field. Ramirez is very good at second base and has sufficient range and arm strength to play shortstop, although that won’t happen regularly as long as Francisco Lindor performs as expected. He needs to improve his baserunning and a year of Triple-A will do him some good. Grade C+.
Ramirez split 2014 between Triple-A Columbus (.302/.360/.441) and Cleveland (.262/.300/.346). He improved the baserunning as hoped and swiped 10 out of 11 bases in 68 major league games, and he was showing some signs of improving his pop at the plate. As you know his 2015 season was a disappointment (.219/.291/.340), but he fully blossomed in 2016.
Although Ramirez has shown more power than anticipated (46 doubles!), overall I don't think his success is a fluke. While he doesn't draw a ton of walks he's always made solid contact and as he matured physically and gained strength he can drive the ball more effectively. He's an efficient stealer and a versatile defender who can handle third base, second base, and left field without hurting you.
Ramirez is still two or three years away from his theoretical prime seasons, but even if he doesn't improve from this basis he's still an excellent asset, very much a sleeper who woke up.