Last season the National League East saw some of baseball's most exciting shortstops. Jimmy Rollins and Edgar Renteria each had terrific seasons for the Phillies and Braves respectively; however it was the two young shortstops that grabbed the headlines. Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez each had breakout seasons at 23 and 22 years of age. Reyes and Ramirez were first and second among National League Shortstops in VORP and at the end of the season Reyes would be worth 5.6 wins above the replacement player and Ramirez worth 6.9 wins.
For Reyes it was his second full and healthy year in the big leagues and for Ramirez his first.
Each played the game in similar fashion: They led off for their respective teams most of the season, posted above average rate statistics for shortstops, and showed a ton of athleticism with speed and high stolen base totals.
It was Reyes who received most of the publicity playing for the big market Mets, but each had very similar productive seasons and could spark debate between Mets and (unfortunately few) Marlins fans in upcoming years.
First let's look at Reyes:
Jose Reyes' Minor League Career was an adventurous one.
Reyes was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Mets in 1999 and began playing professional baseball at the age of 17 in Rookie ball. It wasn't until 2001 however Reyes began to open the eyes of those in the Mets organization. After the strong rookie campaign, Reyes hit .307/.337/.472 and stole 30 bases in 407 AB's for Single-A Capital City at 18 years old. He tremendous athleticism was evident and he was good enough to win the 2001 Mets' Minor League Player of the Year Award from Scout.com. Reyes then had a productive 2002 season split between High-A and Double-A and was named the Mets #1 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2003 season.
Even though he struggled against AAA competition as 20 years old, the Mets would call up Reyes to the big league club, where he made his major league debut against the Texas Rangers on June 10th, 2003.
Reyes would then see 41 more minor league AB's on a rehab assignment (he suffered a strained hamstring during Spring Training before the start of the 2004 season). That would be the last time he saw minor league action.
Like most good prospects, Reyes had both strengths and weaknesses. While he was athletic, speedy, and made plenty of contact, Reyes also struggled to hit for power and more importantly, didn't possess a keen eye at the plate.
Regardless, Reyes was up to stay in New York.
Here is a look at Ramirez:
Like Reyes, Ramirez began playing pro baseball at 17 years old. In his first 458 minor league AB's, Ramirez hit .349 and struck out only 11.1 percent of the time. With such a strong start to his major league career, Baseball American named Ramirez the Red Sox top prospect heading into the 2003 season.
Things became a bit more difficult past the low level of A-ball.
Ramirez hit .275/.327/.403 showing little patience or power for Augusta, but faced older and tougher competition. The bright spots of Ramirez' game came in the fact he stole 36 bases and only struck out in 15.7% of his times at the plate.
Baseball America continued to show their fondness of Ramirez not only naming him the Red Sox top prospect heading into the 2004 season, but also naming him the #3 prospect in the Florida State League.
Ramirez would then post a strong 2004 season at three different level of play. The similar strengths and weaknesses persisted: Ramirez would steal 26 bases that season, but only managed 6 homers all season while walking seldomly.
Baseball America once again named Ramirez the Red Sox #1 prospect heading into the 2005 season. His first full season at AA was somewhat disappointing considering the strong year he had in 2004, but this would be the last time Ramirez would see minor league play.
Looking at the big picture each player had similar minor league careers in some respect. Each player began playing professional as a teenager and at one point became top prospects in their respective organizations. Each were athletic players that made contact and featured the blazing speed scouts loved. Though each received some criticism from stat-oriented fans at one point during their minor league careers, their athletic ability took them far and helped them attain top prospect status.
Looking at each player's major league career thus far, it appears any doubters of the two have been proved wrong.
Once again, we'll first look at Reyes:
As I mentioned earlier, Reyes was brought up in June of `03 by the Mets where he split time at shortstop and second base as a 20-year old hitting .307/.334/.434 and stealing 13 bases: fantastic from a player his age.
Reyes, however, would tear a ligament in his ankle sliding into second base that year, forcing him to miss last month of the 2003 season.
The injury bug came back to bite Reyes in 2004 as well. During Spring Training (also mentioned above), Reyes severely strained his hamstring, causing him to miss April and May entirely. He would return in mid-June and ended the season with a disappointing line of .255/.271/.373 in 220 AB's. Reyes hit only 2 home runs all season and walked in a mere 2.2% of his trips to the plate. Many, including Baseball Prospectus, thought Reyes had been rushed by the Mets organization.
Entering the 2005 season completely healthy, Reyes hoped to bounce back. He did so, but issues regarding his game still persisted. Like his minor league days, Reyes made contract and stole a ton of bases, 60 in fact which led the National League. Unfortunately, he also continued to show little to no power or plate discipline. His .273/.300/.386 line was heads and shoulders better than his pervious season; however the same problems that haunted him throughout his career continued to depress his production.
Everything seemed to change last season. Leading off for the Mets, who would win the N.L. East, Reyes set career highs in just about every offensive category, including batting average (.300), on-base percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.487), OPS (.846), ISO (.187), BB% (7.5%), home runs (19) and stolen bases (64).
Simply put, Reyes elevated his game to a whole new level and was arguably the National League's most productive shortstop.
Here is a look at how Ramirez has faired during his major league career:
Ramirez stepped up to the plate twice in a Red Sox uniform before being dealt in the package that sent him along with Anibal Sanchez and Jesus Delgado to the Marlins in exchange for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota.
It was in Miami Ramirez emerged as one of baseball's top young players. Ramirez hit .292/.350/.480, hit 17 home runs and stole 51 bases for the young Marlins who shocked the baseball world with a 78-win season. Ramirez led all rookies in VORP and won the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Though he and Reyes have very similar minor league careers, Ramirez' rookie season was much more successful than Reyes'. Of course, Ramirez didn't suffer the injuries Reyes did early on in his career, nor did he play in the type of environment that is New York City.
Ramirez however had a very strong rookie year, and produced at the same rate Reyes did without the experience Reyes had already obtained.
Once again looking at the big picture, each player's offensive production was nearly identical to each others last season. Each were well above average shortstops and put those in doubt of their productivity to silence. Most importantly, each player strengthened their weak spots at the major league level. Reyes and Ramirez each started hitting at new levels of power and also showed respectable plate discipline. The combination of the two with the athleticism they present promises for bright futures in the majors.
Using PECOTA's 5-year Valuation we can get an idea of the production PECOTA expect the two to produce over the next half-decade:
PECOTA seems to prefer Ramirez over the next 5 seasons in respect to TOWARP, but only slightly more than Reyes. The theme all along is that the two are very similar players and PECOTA sees more of the same over the next five years.
So, Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes?
I'll stick with PECOTA and go with Ramirez, but just barely.
The fact of the matter is each player has lived up to the hype they possessed in the minor leagues and each have promising, bright futures in the majors that should cause the "who's better" debate between baseball fans of all kinds within the coming years.