Back in March, I made some bold predictions, as all RotoGraphs staff do. Some bold predictions I make simply for the sake of being bold. Or for the sake of making a prediction. One of the two. But I don’t have a vested interest in my predictions, mostly because (1) they typically suck and (2) I don’t own many, if any, shares of the subjects of my predictions (because, well, the predictions suck). It’s kind of like not putting your money where your mouth is.
In this case, I absolutely have a vested interest in Jose Ramirez. Chris Mitchell and I both hold a special place in our hearts for him. I’ve come to realize, in my years of watching and loving baseball, that I most appreciate the hitters who are (debatably) underappreciated contact hitters. Victor Martinez. Pre-breakout Daniel Murphy. Nick Markakis. Martin Prado. Reggie Willits???
Speaking of Prado, Ramirez looks like peak Prado right now, and in more ways than one:
Not only are Prado and Ramirez virtual clones of each other in terms of outcomes (seriously, look at those rate statistics — they’re almost perfect matches across the board!) (and Ramirez runs more!), but…
… they also have nearly identical plate approaches, too, using elite contact skills as a cornerstone for success. Maybe you don’t consider a comparison to 2012 Prado significant, but Prado was drafted 142nd overall that year per ADP (average draft position) and finished that season 136th overall, according to Razzball. Ramirez is essentially performing like a mid-rounder in standard mixed leagues.
It’s all legitimate, too. Ramirez had excellent plate discipline all throughout the minors — why he was on my radar to begin with. In 2013 at Double-A, he struck out only 7.7% of the time, walked just as often, and stole 38 bases. He always had the promise of a high-average base-stealer, even if he didn’t have the prospect pedigree to validate him. (He’s still only 23 years old, mind you.)
The power looks good, too. He’s by no means a power hitter, but he’s hitting a career-best 63.5% fly balls plus line drives, up almost 11 percentage points from his career rate prior to this season. More fly balls generally bodes well for power. Those fewer ground balls likely play against his skill set a bit, but his elevated line drive rate (LD%) combined with his speed and all-fields approach helps buoy his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). With his plate discipline, though, even a league-average BABIP will do.
I know the existence of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis have complicated things, but the Cleveland Indians should have exerted more effort from the start in letting Ramirez win a full-time role, even if it was in the outfield. The Indians didn’t need to sign Juan Uribe. I’m not crying. You’re crying!
This might be one of the best crops, if not the best crop, of young shortstops we’ve ever seen. Yet there’s Ramirez — also a young shortstop, just not a flashy prospect — chilling at 12th among shortstops on ESPN’s Player Rater despite the lack of a guaranteed opportunity. He should keep cruising at this same speed for the rest of the season, granted he still sees regular playing time.
(For the nitpicky: Ramirez has barely played any shortstop all year, so it may not be worthwhile to call him one. But he definitely has that eligibility now regardless of your host website. Next year, he’ll be 3B/OF-eligible; it eats into his value, but if he’s a full-time starter, he’s still a fringe regular in mixed formats at the very least.)
At this point, the only (very tragic) thing standing in the way of the success of my prediction are Michael Brantley’s health and Uribe’s physical manifestation. Maybe they’ll consider moving Uribe at the deadline… to whom, I have no idea. Anyway. Sorry. I’m just jazzed that Ramirez is finally succeeding. I’ll unabashedly toot my own horn here.
But the bigger takeaway is Ramirez is more than just a deep-league option or a mixed-league stopgap. He is a legitimate starter in all formats and is providing more than just low-end value, too. If Ramirez is on waivers, and you don’t have irreplaceable talent at shortstop or in the outfield (the latter of which is highly unlikely), consider adding Ramirez, at least as bench depth. An 8-homer, 20-steal, .300-average season is an entirely reasonable expectation if he can scrape together playing time to get there.