CLEVELAND -- The book is out on Jose Ramirez. The energetic infielder was a suprising success story two years ago and a breakout star just a season ago. Those kind of labels can no longer apply. Ramirez is now a known commodity and expectations will remain at a high level going foward.
The Indians have plenty of star power for 2018 -- two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, infectious shortstop Francisco Lindor and relief ace Andrew Miller among them -- and Ramirez, while short in stature, stands tall. If Cleveland wants to return to the World Series, it will count on the switch-hitting Ramirez to continue to build on his standout showings of the past two summers.
"He's turned himself into one of the best players in the game," Indians manager Terry Francona said last season. "Defensively, he's really good. Offensively, he's really good. Shoot, he's just really good."
Ramirez's key attribute is versatility.
A few seasons ago, it was easy to think Ramirez was being groomed for a utility role. Instead, as Francona has consistently emphasized, Ramirez was viewed by the team as an everyday player for multiple spots. Before Lindor rose to the Majors, Ramirez played shortstop. When Michael Brantley dealt with injuries in 2016, Ramirez moved to left field. When health woes plagued Jason Kipnis last season, Ramirez shifted to second. Oh, and he was the starting third baseman for the American League All-Star team in '17.
For 2018, it looks like Ramirez is heading for a return to second base, where he finished last season. That said, Cleveland knows it can just as easily move Ramirez to third base if that makes more sense for the construction of the roster. Either way, the Indians trust that Ramirez will provide above-average defense, and that moving back and forth will not hinder his work in the batter's box.
"It's amazing to see a player who's moved around so much," Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. "He started in left field two years ago, third base, and then even in-season moving from third to second. To be able to put up the offensive season that he did this year, it's a huge credit to him and his dynamic athleticism."
Last season, the 25-year-old Ramirez hit .318 with a .374 on-base percentage and a .583 slugging percentage. He belted a career-high 29 homers, paced the Majors with 56 doubles and was tied for the MLB lead with 91 extra-base hits. Ramirez stole 17 bases, collected 83 RBIs and scored 107 runs. His .957 OPS was tied for third in the AL with league MVP Jose Altuve of the Astros.
For his work, Ramirez not only became the first Indians player since 2001 to be voted into the All-Star Game as a starter by fans, but he picked up an AL Silver Slugger Award for third base and was also a Gold Glove Award finalist for the position. Ramirez was also third in AL MVP voting, trailing only Altuve and Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, and finishing one spot ahead of Angels star Michael Trout.
The Indians, and their fans, will expect more of the same from Ramirez in 2018.
"He keeps adding another dimension to his game," Kluber said this past season. "Last year, on the fly learning to play left field. And then all of a sudden turning into an everyday third baseman, when second base is actually his natural position. He hasn't missed a beat by playing other positions. While doing that, performing at the plate the way he has is really impressive."