You probably know who Evan Longoria is...
And unless you've lived under a rock for the last couple years you know who Jacoby Ellsbury is...
Ellsbury, of course, was the odds on favorite to win rookie of the year before the season started. Longoria, of course, is the odds on favorite to win it now.
What does all of this have to do with some Cuban you've never heard of, you ask? Unless you are White Sox fan, Alexei Ramirez has totally flown under the national radar this year for some reason. See, he was the best player in Cuba, yet when he defected and became eligible to sign a major league contract nobody cared. Not even the people who run major league teams. Most scouts viewed him as a skinny kid who swung for the fences too often and would never make it in the Major leagues. (He led the Cuban leagues in home runs last year despite weighing a buck seventy soaking wet). While most teams wrote him off from the get go, the White Sox saw him as Alfonso Soriano with a much better glove and signed him to a 4 year $4mil contract and hoped he'd be able to contribute in the majors by next season.
As a short stop by trade who could also play center field he didn't fit into the Sox plans this year, anyhow. With the acquisition of Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera manning SS, moving Juan Uribe over to 2nd to compete with incumbant Danny Richar. And with Jerry Owens the expected starter in CF, Nick Swisher in left, Jermaine Dye in right, and Brian Anderson fighting Carlos Quentin for the 4th OF position there just wasn't going to be room on the 2008 roster for this kid.
Funny thing happened on the way to expectationville. Owens and Richar got hurt early while Alexei excelled at 2nd (a position he hadn't played before) and hit the heck out of the ball in spring training. In the end, Ramirez played his way onto the roster in spring training with a little helping hand from fate.
He actually started the first two games of the season in CF but, as Ozzie Guillen quickly pointed out, that was solely because of matchup reasons and Alexei was there as a utility infielder who could spell Uribe at 2nd and Cabrera at SS on occasion.
April was not kind for this rookie who was nearly sent down several times in spring training. He learned very quickly the difference between MLB pitching and Cuban league pitching and the difference between spring training pitching and regular season pitching. Alexei put up the following stat line in April:
33AB 4H .121BA .329OPS
He was good as gone as soon as Richar was healthy.
Then fate intervened again. Juan Uribe got hurt. With Ramirez the only current everyday option at 2nd base, Guillen had no choice but to start him. Ozzie tried to calm him down saying things like "I don't care if he hits, just make sure to catch the ball and make plays in the field" but us White Sox fans cringed. This was worse than just letting the pitchers hit in the 9 hole.
Funny thing happened by playing everyday. This kid who never saw a pitch he wouldn't swing at and who knew absolutely nothing about major league pitchers and didn't care to know, started hitting...and hitting...and hitting.
In May he had 64 AB 18H .295BA .755OPS
OK, White Sox fans take a collective breath. We can live with THAT from the 9 hole for sure. Heck, the way the rest of the team was hitting people were calling to move into the 5 hole.
Only Alexei was just getting started. He was now comfortable in the Major Leagues. Comfortable with his fun loving team mates. Felt like he belongs for the first time.
June produced 93AB 33H .355BA .908OPS
OK...whoa...I know the scouts were comparing him to Soriano, but come on, we figured they were just blowing smoke. Besides if this was the REAL Alexei then how come nobody else tried to sign him? How did the Sox get him so cheap? Yes, us Sox fans are jaded. Even with consistent and quick improvement we still have to look for the negative. NO WAY HE KEEPS THIS UP.
So now as we close out July and again look at his monthly stats that SURELY were going to fall back to earth, we are again plesantly surprised.
July we have 82AB 29H .354BA .904OPS
Holy crap! Despite the incredibly horrible start this kid is actually hitting .314 and slugging .470 for the season, with an OPS of .804.
And playing an UNBELIEVABLE 2nd base at times:
And you've likely no idea who he is.
Longoria is hitting .278 Ellsbury is hitting .262. With Ramirez continuing to improve his numbers, and the two frontrunners struggling at times, don't count out this kid you never heard of in the ROY race before it's all said and done.