Thoughts on Hanley Ramirez, Big Papi and Fernandez vs. Puig

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Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez at home plate.
Hanley Ramirez is all eyes as his has one of his best seasons of his young career.

Since this is Hispanic Heritage Month, which actually extends until October 15, there is no better time to acknowledge the accomplishments of Latino peloteros in 2013.

Frankly, there are too many stellar performances to recognize in one just one setting, so I’ll stick to a few of the stars that have led their teams to postseason births. And then I’ll air out my feelings on who should receive a prestigious, postseason award.

Hanley Ramirez is probably having the best season of his eight year career, batting in the four hole for the Los Angeles Dodgers, champions of the National League West. At least that’s what he believes. Hitting a sizzling .351, and once again displaying dominance at shortstop, the often-moody Ramirez is even showing some leadership skills. The cranky lower back and other issues seem to be unimportant.

“I’m happy now,” Ramirez simply explains.

I’m guessing that playing on the best team money can buy appeals to “El Nino,” who will be 30 in December. It certainly helps when you don’t have to carry the weight of a whole team on your shoulders anymore.

David Ortiz is another superstar who seems a lot friendlier, especially since his Boston Red Sox have clinched the American League East. It’s not that “Big Papi,” who has played more than 130 games this year, has a problem carrying the mail, but it’s nice to be healthy again and know that baseball will continue in October. The now frisky Dominican has even stolen four bases and his overall numbers continue to be consistent, even for a 37-year-old veteran of 17 seasons.

Miguel Cabrera won’t win the Triple Crown again, but he’s leading the league in four offensive categories and his Detroit Tigers will repeat in the AL Central. Oakland A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes continues to be clutch for the AL West kings, and flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman is having another solid year as closer for the playoff-bound Cincinnati Reds.

The latter pair of athletes are Cuban nationals, and are among 17 defectors from the Communist island who have played in the big leagues in 2013. However, none have captured the spotlight quite like right fielder Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers and Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez. The pair are virtually deadlocked in the projected voting for the NL Rookie of the Year honors, with Puig and his team getting a lot of attention going forward.

The stories of both these young men will emotionally affect any normal human being. On one of his many escape attempts from Cuba, the giant-sized Puig was apprehended with others by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, wearing nothing but ragged shorts and flip-flops. When he finally made it close to Mexico on a sixth try, Yasiel was rescued by a speed boat occupied by drug smugglers.

Fernandez, as I documented in a post earlier this summer, was only a teenager when he hoped to flee Fidel Castro’s shores with his family. Jose would save his mother from drowning, serve prison time as a minor, and eventually gain freedom near the Mexican resort city of Cancun.

When you look at these two players, the impact they have had on their teams is enormous. When Puig was called up from the minors on June 3rd, he would bang out 44 hits for the month on a team that was injury-riddled and reeling. The 6′-3″, 245 pound warrior, who legendary broadcaster Vin Scully calls “the wild horse,” has racked up Herculean stats. In 96 games and 402 plate appearances, Puig has slammed 21 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs and has stolen 11 bases.

That said, Puig is still rough around the edges, a bit unusual for a former star of the Cuban national team. For all his offensive pluses, Yasiel has struck out on an average of once in every four at-bats. He has trouble communicating on defense, air mails basic throws to try and nail the lead runner, and makes poor decisions on the base paths. What’s more, he has been benched for lack of hustle, something skipper Don Mattingly calls “tough love.”

Puig’s immaturity has also made him a victim of the Hollywood scene. When he failed to make the all-star team despite a massive Internet campaign, Puig hung out with celebrities at the Playboy mansion during the break and gained the reputation of a “party animal.” For that reason, the Dodgers have hired a security entourage to watch over Yasiel’s best interests and keep him in check.

Fernandez, unlike Puig, is a starting pitcher and not an everyday player. I understand that, and now Jose has been shut down for the season after throwing 172 innings. The numbers: a 12-6 record with a 2.19 ERA and 186 strikeouts. Jose was also dominating in the All-Star Game, which raised many eyebrows. What’s even more impressive, though, is that Fernandez actually got stronger in the season’s second half, boasting an ERA of 1.32 in his last 10 starts, surrendering only 32 hits over 64 innings while fanning 84 opposing batters.

The 21-year-old right hander, like Puig, is also a bit on the cocky side. So, it was no surprise when he enraged the Atlanta Braves by admiring his first career home run at the plate off Mike Minor back on September 11, which was perhaps bad timing. But I don’t know a pitcher alive who doesn’t enjoy launching a bomb of his own, especially against the division leaders.

Look, both these guys are special players who deserve recognition for an outstanding season, even though Puig missed the first two months preparing for his debut. And to me, that’s the difference. Fernandez was a major league player from day one, and deserves to get this award.

As for Yasiel Puig, he might be lucky enough to have a shot at a World Series ring. And Jose Fernandez will be watching on the tube somewhere in Florida.

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