Ramirez asked to lead White Sox infield
Entering third season, expectations high for shortstop
PHOENIX -- White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez is entering the biggest season of his career for the third time in three years.
Expectations have been high for the infielder since he left Cuba in 2007 and signed with the White Sox a few months later.
"People have to remember that when Alexei first started, he was not supposed to make the team," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Then he was good enough to carry him on the ballclub, and then we went through how many at-bats to give him. He was our Opening Day shortstop, and then he played a little shortstop and he played second base -- great second base. He was there because we needed him."
Now the club needs him at shortstop. Ramirez needs to show he can anchor the infield.
"I don't think playing shortstop in Cuba is the same thing as playing in the Major Leagues, but he's doing a good job, and I'm very happy about it," Guillen said. "He's capable of hitting 20 to 25 home runs. He seems more relaxed. I expect a lot of things from him."
Ramirez said he is up for the challenge.
"My mindset is just to help the team," Ramirez said. "I just want to help my team win. My numbers will come. That is not my focus."
In 2008, Ramirez hit .290 with 77 RBIs and 21 home runs in 136 games. On defense, he played second base, shortstop third base and center field, committing 14 combined errors. Last season, he hit .277 with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs in 148 games. He made 20 errors at shortstop.
"When I first got here, I was just trying to learn everything. I was far from home and I didn't know how things work in the Major Leagues," Ramirez said. "My goal was to produce the way I did when I was in Cuba, and I believe I can do that here. I'm more familiar with what is going on."
Ramirez will have assistance this year. Veteran Omar Vizquel was signed as a utility player, but one of his unofficial duties is serving as a mentor to Ramirez. The young infielder said he was in awe of Vizquel's accomplishments on the field.
"Alexei seems to be really fluid, and I think he's going to be easy for me to communicate with him because we speak Spanish," Vizquel said. "It's going to be fun. Every time I get to work with a younger guy, it brings back memories and refreshes my memory of what you have to do to be successful. I'll share that with him."
Ramirez will have to help himself get a better start to the season that in the past. His batting average for the first two months of the season during the past two years is .184.
"The biggest difference between baseball here and Cuba is the pitching," Ramirez said. "The game is the same, there are still four bases, but the pitching is deep. It seems everybody throws 95 miles per hour and guys have four or five different pitches and they do it from the start. You have to learn fast or you will be left behind."
Ramirez will also have to make an adjustment in the clubhouse. He's not a veteran, but he's also no longer a rookie.
"Ozzie told me in Miami that I have to be a leader for this team, and I'm going to do the best I possibly can," Ramirez said. I'm going to help guys the way I have been helped. I'm also learning, too, so I cannot say I know it all."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.