Exactly one month after agreeing to join the Chicago Cubs as a player/coach at Triple-A, legendary slugger Manny Ramirez will report for duty on Thursday ahead of the Iowa Cubs scheduled road doubleheader against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
Ramirez, 42, spent the past month at the Cubs' spring training facility in Arizona preparing for his role by working out with minor league and rehabbing players, while also working himself into playing shape. Apparently, it didn't take him long to knock off whatever rust he may have had. In an extended spring training game on June 4, he launched a mammoth 450-foot home run that was punctuated with a momentous bat flip.
Indeed, Manny is still Manny at heart.
Naturally, most observers will be watching to see how much Ramirez has left in the tank, and also what antics he'll attempt to pull off. Bat flips would fall under the latter category, so he surely won't disappoint there. For Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, though, it's about the wealth of hitting knowledge Ramirez can bring to his young and impressionable hitters, such as hot-hitting prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.
"We have some exciting, young offensive prospects and Manny knows as much about hitting as anybody," Epstein said recently. "I think he can enhance the solid hitting instruction we already have in the minor leagues. Manny is probably the calmest right-handed hitter I've seen in the box and so if he can help teach that calmness to just one player in our system it will be worth it."
The upside to the relationship is simply this: For Ramirez, there's no off switch when it comes to hitting. After 19 seasons, 555 homers and a .996 career OPS, he still wants to compete. His desire, in and of itself, is a good trait to have rub off on your younger players.
His role is also clearly defined. The Cubs have no plans on calling him up to the big league roster, regardless of how well he performs. He's there to teach and talk hitting with anyone who will listen, which stands to benefit the organization greatly. The payback to Ramirez goes beyond earning a paycheck, it's an opportunity to satisfy his own desires to continue getting at-bats in a competitive environment.
The downside is Manny having his selfish Manny moments that distract the players he's attempting to groom from the big picture. However, if Epstein viewed that as a real concern, it's a hire he wouldn't have made. Ramirez gained his confidence and was receptive to his role. Now, if he ends up relishing it and succeeding, it's a role that could be his ticket back to the big leagues in a role he may not have imagined for himself, as a hitting instructor.
Now wouldn't that be interesting?
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