Ramirez on rise
CHICAGO — Manny being Manny has been a positive so far for the Chicago Cubs.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein praised Manny Ramirez on Friday for his work with the Cubs' minor leaguers in Arizona, and said the ex-major league star could join Triple-A Iowa next week.
Ramirez signed a minor league deal in May and reported to the team's facility in Mesa to get some at-bats in extended spring training. When Ramirez moves to Iowa, he will be a player-coach for Chicago's top farm club.
"I've gotten unsolicited emails and texts from a lot of the staff down there saying that he's been a breath of fresh air and the best thing that ever happened to the kids down in Mesa," Epstein said before the Cubs' 6-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates. "So I'm really pleased with the impact he's making on the organization.
"Probably sometime next week that he's ready to go to Iowa, but we're not in a rush because he's making an impact with the young kids down there who are getting their first taste of pro ball as well as guys like Jorge Soler, who are there rehabbing. Manny's been a really nice influence so far."
The 42-year-old Ramirez is a .312 hitter with 555 home runs in 2,302 games covering 19 major league seasons. But the Cubs brought him in to serve as a mentor for some of their young players and insist he is not a candidate for a promotion to the major league club.
The addition of Ramirez was a bit of a gamble for Epstein, who was the general manager in Boston when the enigmatic slugger helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004 and 2007.
Ramirez was suspended for 50 games in 2009 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers after testing positive for a banned drug. He retired in April 2011 instead of serving a 100-game ban for a second positive test while with Tampa Bay, but later agreed to a reduced 50-game suspension and played in the minors for Oakland in 2012.
He also has been criticized in the past for lackadaisical play, but Epstein thinks he can be a valuable teacher for Chicago's rich minor league system.
"He's been meeting with the young kids there daily, pulling them aside, talking about hitting, talking about not making some of the same mistakes that he made off the field, really keeping them focused on working hard and having a passion for the game and doing things the right way," Epstein said.
When Ramirez gets to Iowa, he will get a chance to work one of the majors' best prospects in third baseman Kris Bryant. The No. 2 overall selection in last year's draft hit .355 with 20 homers in 68 games with Double-A Tennessee, and then belted a two-run shot in his debut with Iowa on Thursday night.
The promotion to Triple-A means Bryant is just one step away from joining the Cubs, but Epstein made it sound as if that would be next season at the earliest.
"I don't forsee a scenario where he'd be up this year," he said. "I don't think it's the right thing to do for someone in his first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances both in respect to the player and what's going on at the big league club."
Epstein also is pleased with what he has seen so far from this year's first-round pick, Kyle Schwarber. The No. 4 overall selection from Indiana University was quickly promoted from Chicago's short-season Class A affiliate in Boise, Idaho, to Single-A Kane County.
There is some question about whether Schwarber will play catcher or left field in the pros, but it looks as if that decision can wait for now.
"We decided this year, his first exposure to pro ball, we're going to have him see a lot of time in left field, let him catch about once a week, maybe twice a week, so he can stay fresh with his catching, DH some so that he can keep his bat in the lineup when he needs a day off," Epstein said. "Then we're going to sit down at the end of the minor league season and see whether it's an appropriate time to make a call."
——— Jay Cohen can be reached at http:www.twitter.com/jcohenap