White Sox remain confident in Ramirez
Guillen, Williams plan on sticking with youngster at shortstop
CHICAGO -- The words "Gold Glove" and Alexei Ramirez probably won't be announced together when Major League Baseball's defensive awards come around in early November.In just his first season as the White Sox shortstop, Ramirez doesn't have the reputation or pedigree possessed by other candidates for this particular honor. There's also the matter of 18 errors committed by Ramirez, leaving him tied for the third-highest total in the American League. But the good news for the White Sox is that in a somewhat up-and-down campaign, Ramirez has been pretty much exclusively up over the past month. According to manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Ken Williams, Ramirez will have the chance to continue the development process as the team's shortstop for 2010 and beyond. "Ozzie and I have talked, and we have no plans to move him off of shortstop," said Williams of Ramirez. "He should be the shortstop in a White Sox uniform for a little while," Guillen said. During his 16-year playing career, of which all but three were with the White Sox, Guillen was a pretty fair shortstop in his own right. He finished with 1,764 hits, three All-Star appearances and a Gold Glove of his own in 1990. So, when Guillen said before the 2009 season that Ramirez playing shortstop would make White Sox fans forget the current manager even handled the position, the bar was set fairly high. Factoring in those plaudits, why was there even a possibility Ramirez could move to another spot on the field? For starters, Ramirez is a tremendous athlete, a player who has handled shortstop, second base, center field and even a few games at third base in parts of two Major League seasons after coming over from Cuba. There's also the little matter of Gordon Beckham, the team's top pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, being a natural shortstop by trade. Beckham made a quick ascension to the big leagues this year, as a third baseman, and Ramirez has grown into his middle-infield job. Their particular skill-sets make for an interesting combination on the left side of the infield, without any position changes. "We like having that athletic left side," Williams said. "We really have two shortstops on our left side of the infield. As they are more comfortable with each other and become more comfortable with the Major League game, they should become one of the more solid tandems." "You can see I've improved in the past month. I've adjusted now," said Ramirez, speaking of the change from second to shortstop, through interpreter and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "I've had the entire season to concentrate on the position and learn the position a little more. Obviously, I have certain flaws I need to work on, but I feel confident that I'm going to get better." This first season at shortstop has not exactly been filled with smooth sailing for Ramirez. Although he enters this weekend's series in Anaheim hitting .277 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs, pretty much on pace to match last year's rookie totals of .290, 21 and 77, Ramirez had another slow start with the bat. At the end of April, Ramirez was batting .214 and his average dropped to .198 on May 10. The sometimes perceived defeated attitude behind those struggles led Guillen to bench his shortstop for Jayson Nix on May 7-8. Tough love has been the watchword for Guillen where Ramirez has been concerned. Guillen also has been critical, at times, of Ramirez's lazy throws to first base, resulting in some of those 18 errors. Never have these critiques bothered Ramirez or hurt the bond between the manager and his shortstop prodigy. "There never was any back and forth between us because he knows I was right," Guillen said. "There is a reason you are on the bench. We talked about it, and he understands. He had a bad attitude on the field and we come here to fight. He wasn't fighting the right way. He thought playing shortstop in the big leagues is playing shortstop in the Cuban League. No, that's a different scenario." "Alexei is a 28-year-old [as of Sept. 22] second-year player in the big leagues, who has proven that he can make the spectacular play and the routine play," Williams said. "Is there an occasional lapse? Yeah, there is. The whole darn team has had an occasional lapse. He's going to continue to grow and get better." To Ramirez's credit, he knows the root of the defensive problems sit mainly with throws. In order to improve, Ramirez has focused on rhythm and technique, not rushing and knowing who the hitter is at the time. "More than anything, practice makes perfect," Ramirez said. "The more you practice, the better you get." Plenty of games, make that seasons full of games, will be afforded to Ramirez for improvement. He already has become a dynamic offensive force, hitting .358 with runners in scoring position and two outs and .366 overall vs. left-handed pitchers. With Guillen paying close attention to Ramirez's work, he's sure to have the defense to match his work at the plate and possibly become the next White Sox Gold Glove winner. "When you have a really bad start like he did, you can go either way: You are going to get better or you shut it down and say the season is over," Guillen said. "This kid [has fought] back and played better. Little by little, he's going to take it." "For me, it's been important knowing that Ozzie was a great shortstop and a great player when he played," Ramirez said. "For him to impart any type of knowledge, I appreciate it. I feel privileged that I'm getting that type of information and that type of instruction. I'm a very open person. Whatever type of advice, whether it's positive or negative, I'm going to listen."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.