Alexei Ramirez is one of the longest tenured Chicago White Sox players entering the ’15 season. The Cuban is now 33 years old and has been on the South Side his entire career.
Ramirez is known for his glove, generating highlight reel defense and arguably possessing the most range of any shortstop in the American League. His offensive game has taken a backseat however in notoriety, which is strange considering he’s actually posted consistent slash lines throughout the duration of his career.
In ’14, Ramirez experienced a renaissance that can be rare for players on the wrong side of 30. He earned his first all-star bid on the back of explosive production over the first two months of the season, when he was arguably the team’s best hitter. That’s saying something considering a guy named Jose Abreu was on quite the tear of his own during the same period.
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With such a slender frame, Ramirez doesn’t look like a power hitter on the surface, but in his rookie season he hit 21 bombs and has always had doubles power. While he never surpassed his rookie mark, Ramirez did post at least 15 home runs annually through his 2011 season.
Ramirez saw a power outage in 2012 and 2013, but really only in the home run department as he failed to reach double-digit marks in both seasons.
The common theory was that grandfather time was catching up to Ramirez early and that his days of being a force in the line up were over. This was certainly the sentiment in ’12 when he posted a career worst .651 OPS, and worries only mounted in 2013 when his defense was also sub par.
This was ultimately a misconception. Everyone points to Ramirez tallying only six home runs in ’13 as evidence of an uncharacteristic down year.
However, this was the same season he posted a career high 39 doubles, a sign that his power was manifesting itself elsewhere, and swiped a career best 30 bases.
Alexei’s power output is solely dependent on his own mentality
The most encouraging thing about Ramirez’s ’14 season was that he combined both, moving back to career norms in the home run department, slugging 15, and continuing to be competent on the base paths, as he stole 21.
So this begs the question. What does the 2015 season hold for Ramirez?
My answer is that we’ll see unprecedented production from Chicago’s least heralded star. Bigger names like Chris Sale and Jose Abreu overshadow Ramirez, but he is an integral piece on both sides of the ball and will be counted on if the White Sox have any hope of claiming the AL Central title in ’15.
Ramirez isn’t known to produce early in the season, which is why his hot start last year was such an anomaly. Ramirez dropped off in September, an indication that he may have lost some gas after being so electric earlier in the year.
Then again, he still managed to post a .706 OPS in the second half, and an even higher slugging percentage, so it wasn’t as if there was that striking of a disparity between his halves.
Mar 27, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez (10) gets ready to hit in the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs during a spring training game at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
My optimism for Ramirez is backed by a quote from last April.
According to ESPN.com reporter Doug Padilla, his article chronicling his early success. On a changed approach, Ramirez said this:
"“‘Steverson has given me some advice, the main one being staying back a little bit, waiting on the ball.’On the criticism that he hasn’t hit the home runs that were expected of him, Ramirez brushes it off saying he’s not a power hitter. When it comes to hitting in either the No. 8 spot or the No. 2 spot, he says he doesn’t care, that he will approach his at-bats the same.”"
The first portion of the quote regarding Ramirez’s approach is the key to his success last season. Ramirez has always been an aggressive hitter, which is why he hasn’t always had the best OBP output.
His main issue was that he was merely swinging too early. This seems like it wouldn’t have a night and day type effect, but it most definitely did in the case of Ramirez.
Suddenly his hard contact was falling down the line or right of the foul pole in the stands, rather than connecting with seats on the lower level. Waiting on the ball was the difference between the official scorer recording a double versus a foul.
If Ramirez continues utilizing a more patient approach and doesn’t wander to out in front of the ball, he’ll find success once again.
His comments on not being a power hitter highlight that his power outage was more about mentality than actual capacity. In 2013, Ramirez was actually tested in the third spot in the order when Robin Ventura was willing to explore anything that would potentially spark a stagnant offense.
Ramirez actually slugged .413 from that spot, a remarkable .40 points higher than he did in the 2-hole. He also hit 50-percent of his home runs when hitting in what is traditionally considered a power slot in the lineup.
With the addition of Melky Cabrera, who will likely hit in the 2-hole, Ramirez will find himself in a different role, at least when it comes to how he fits into this rejuvenated South Side line up.
No longer will he be expected to make contact and move the runner over, but he’ll serve as a secondary RBI source behind the middle of the order.
The idea that Ramirez could be a 20/20 player makes him an underrated piece in this White Sox line up
For context, he posted a .521 slugging percentage and an .867 OPS from that spot in the batting order over 48 at bats last year. It’s a somewhat small sample size, but is what I think is a prelude to exactly the type of mindset he’ll have from that spot this coming season.
Even if Ramirez says otherwise, his statistics show a change in his approach when he’s in a power position. In fact, he’s been a sneaky RBI hitter over his career, with the exception of ’13, as he’s posted over 70 RBIs in five of his seven MLB seasons.
It wouldn’t be out of the question for Ramirez to reach the 80 mark in ’15 and he has a legit shot at 20 home runs if he can maintain his durability and stave off late season fatigue.
The idea that Ramirez could be a 20/20 player makes him an underrated piece in this White Sox lineup. It’s not unheard of to see a late power surge in one’s career (See Paul Konerko, who posted some of his better power numbers in his mid thirties).
No longer will Ramirez be a hitter who is simply trying to make contact and facilitate offense for the big guys behind him. While his strike outs should spike in ’15 as a result, expect Ramirez to aim for the fences a little more out of the seventh spot, and if he produces 20 outfield souvenirs this season I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.