By Bruce Levine-
CHICAGO (CBS) — Riding the wave of his best April and May ever, White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez appears headed to his first All-Star Game.
The 32-year-old Ramirez has been the best at his position in the American League through the first third of 2014. Ramirez is currently second in the voting behind Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
“You understand the process and why that is happening,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Jeter leading the voting in his final season before retirement. “That does not diminish for us what Alexei has been doing so far this year.”
Ramirez was hitting over .400 with runners in scoring position as late as last week. For the season, he’s batting .327 with seven homers and 36 RBIs. The good hitting along with his stellar defense not only makes Ramirez the best clutch hitter on the White Sox but also their top commodity on the trade market. The White Sox have their shortstop signed to a favorable contract for $9.5 million in 2014 and $10 million in 2015. Those figures are great for the budget-conscious White Sox and even better if you talk trade with a smaller market team.
Last July it was St Louis and Pittsburgh that came calling for the Cuban infielder. Both clubs may come back to the White Sox one more time for their shortstop. A trade seems unlikely, but White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has said on many occasions that there is no such thing as an untouchable in his organization.
“If we were a winning team last year he would get more recognition,” Ventura said. “Winning games comes with it. In the three years I have been here, this is as good as he has played.”
Ventura believes there has been a synergistic surge of energy among the Cuban players since Jose Abreu joined the team. A personal tragedy more than likely had the most distracting impact on the friendly infielder last season, as Ramirez’s father-in law was murdered in Miami. Ramirez is now back to being the outstanding defender he was before 2013, when he made a career-high 22 errors.
Ramirez credits the entire staff for his improvement. He singles out assistant hitting coach Harold Baines for his dedicated hard work and friendship.
“I have known Harold since 1999,” Ramirez said. “Cuba played the Orioles in a home-and-home series. I looked up his numbers, and I never told him this, but I have always looked up to him as a hitter. His discipline and strength and being around him inspire me.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.