When the White Sox announced the signing of Cuban international, Alexei Ramírez to a four-year, $4.75 million contract late last year, the amateur baseball world was abuzz with opinion and doubt over the long-term prospects of this relatively unknown slugger.
Looking at the general lack of superstar success that Cuban hitters have encountered, my own support for Yuniesky Betancourt notwithstanding, as they transition to the Major Leagues, should we consider Ramírez a legitimate candidate to help the White Sox solidify their offense or a product of baseball's hype machine?
While preliminary reports from White Sox camp laud Ramirez' glove work, judgment on his approach at the plate seems to be guarded for the moment.
General comparisons made over the winter likened Ramírez' swing to that of the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano and Detroit's Edgar Renteria.
Curiously enough, Ramírez is listed at 6'1" and 180 pounds—exactly the same as Soriano. And although the White Sox will be dreaming about Alexei posting Soriano-like power numbers, one Chicago Sun-Times reporter has already joked that Ramírez looks more like an athlete training to run the Boston Marathon than compete for a spot on the 25-man roster.
All physical exaggerations aside, Alexei does have a history of hitting for power as he posted a .338 BA while slugging .578 with 20 HR last year for Pinar del Río of the Cuban National League, which some pundits have equated to the single-A, Midwest League or single-A Short Season, NY-Penn League.
However, with what has been described as a long, loopy, fastball swing, Ramírez will most likely have his work cut out for him as he learns to handle Major League-quality off-speed pitches and attempts to replicate his power achievements from Cuba.
The growing pains that are sure to come with his adjustment period will undoubtedly show throughout spring training. In turn, the White Sox will have to ponder whether or not to break camp with Alexei or assign him to AAA for a couple months to accumulate experience.
What makes this decision harder—or easier, depending on how you look at it—is the lack of a formidable option at second baseman to open the year.
With Danny Richar stuck for the time being in the Dominican Republic with US visa issues, Ramírez is competing with two underwhelming and familiar players, Pablo Ozuna and Juan Uribe, for 2B duties.
The more face-time Ramírez accrues in front of coaching staff and media, the more you have to think that he'll become Chicago's 'Great Havana Hype.' Starting the season in platoon with Richar and filling Ozuna's roster spot (since Ramírez can also double as a fourth or fifth OF) may be the most likely result with a mid-season move to become the starter if he can adapt and weather the possibility of a tumultuous first half.
Because I have a soft spot for player-parallels, I'm tempted to compare Ramírez with another 2B, Orlando Hudson. I would not be surprised to see Alexei follow the same age 26+ growth curve as Hudson, eventually becoming a top-tier 2B/SS in the American League, contributing all-around positive numbers in a diverse set of statistical categories.