|Acclaim for Marlins' Ramirez has yet to catch up with his achievements|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 23 August 2007 09:53|
So many hits, so few fans to see them. In his second season as Florida's shortstop, Ramirez has blossomed into a precocious offensive force, slugging homers and stealing bases while he also contends for a batting title.
Acclaim for the 23-year-old Ramirez has yet to match his achievements, because he performs for the NL's most off-the-radar team. The Marlins rarely play on national TV and rank last in the NL in attendance, with recent home games sometimes drawing crowds of less than 3,000.
South Florida is missing a great show, while the rest of the country is gradually coming to appreciate Ramirez. Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Orlando Hudson played three games in Miami last week and came away from the series touting Ramirez as the league's most valuable player.
``I'm dead serious,'' Hudson said. ``Look what he brings to the table. There's nothing in the game this young man can't do. If he doesn't get it this year, he'll win two or three before his career is over.''
Such superlatives might astound casual baseball fans, given that Ramirez apparently has yet to make much of an impression on them. He finished eighth at his position in the NL All-Star voting.
But the Marlins' leadoff hitter began this week leading the league in batting average (.340), hits (163) and multi-hit games (49). He was tied for second in total bases (277) and was third in stolen bases (38).
``He may play for the Florida Marlins, but it's still the major leagues,'' Hudson said. ``And he's putting up some monster numbers.''
Ramirez began the week with 23 homers and ranked sixth in slugging percentage, ahead of such run-producers as Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn. He could become the first player in major league history to bat .340 or better with at least 20 homers and 35 steals.
``I think he's the most talented person in the game,'' teammate Aaron Boone said. ``People in the know know how great this kid has a chance to be.''
Ramirez is not without notoriety. He was chosen NL rookie of the year in 2006, when he hit .292 with 17 home runs and 51 stolen bases.
But the young Dominican would be the toast of the town in New York, Chicago or Boston. Instead he's overshadowed even within his division by the Mets' Jose Reyes, widely touted as the game's best young shortstop.
The buzz on Ramirez is building, however.
``I hear it from people across in the other dugout on other teams - coaches and managers going, 'Wow,''' Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
``People should start paying attention,'' Florida first baseman Mike Jacobs said, ``because he's doing special things, and he's going to be doing special things for a long time.''
Ramirez was a highly touted prospect when the Marlins acquired him in a payroll purge following the 2005 season. He came from the Boston minor league system along with right-hander Anibal Sanchez, and the Marlins paid dearly, giving up right-hander Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell.
``Both sides have to be happy with the trade,'' Lowell said. ``The Marlins were looking to get some young talent and get rid of some big contracts. Obviously Josh and I are going to make a lot more money than what Hanley Ramirez is making.''
With a $402,000 salary, Ramirez is one of baseball's best bargains. Projecting statistics over a full season, he'll be paid $1,873 per hit, compared with $101,818 per hit for the Yankees' $21.6 million shortstop, Derek Jeter.
The only knock against Ramirez is for his defense. On Tuesday he committed his 20th error, most among NL shortstops, to cost Florida a game. He made 26 errors as a rookie.
He possesses a strong arm and the quickness to cover a lot of ground, but he's prone to misplaying the most routine grounder. The Marlins say he'll improve with experience and dismiss suggestions he should move to the outfield.
``As long as he's hitting .340 with the power and the speed and everything he does, an error here and an error there ain't going to make a difference,'' Jacobs said. ``He's going to score more and drive in more than he's going to give up making an error.''
Ramirez has been on a tear since opening day, when he went 4-for-4. He has so much pop the Marlins dropped him from first to third in the order in May, but he began swinging for the fences, hit only .297 in the No. 3 spot and after six weeks was back batting leadoff.
Which raises an intriguing question about Ramirez: Where will he be a few years from now? Leadoff or cleanup? Shortstop or center field?
Fenway Park or Wrigley Field? In baseball's major markets, superstardom awaits.
``If he played in New York or Chicago or one of those big media places, he'd be on billboards,'' Gonzalez said. ``But we like him here and hope he stays here for a long time.''
Not likely, given Florida's perennially small payroll. Ramirez becomes eligible for arbitration in 2009, so Marlins fans had best enjoy him while they can.
AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall in Tampa and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.