How Many Mannys Are There?

Manny Ramirez's selection as the Most Valuable Player in the 2004 World Series should serve as a feather in the cap for the folks who ran the Cleveland Indians' scouting and player development departments in 1991.<br><br> That's when the Tribe used its first-round pick to select Ramirez.

Danny O'Dowd, now the much-maligned general manager of the Colorado Rockies, was the player development director and oversaw the scouting department. Mickey White, who was later fired by O'Dowd, was the scouting director.

Although O'Dowd, White and scout Joe Delucca, who signed Ramirez, are long gone, they will forever have a spot in Tribe history because they are the only ones in franchise history to ever draft a player who has gone on to be the World Series MVP.

Pedro Guerrero, who won the MVP award while a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, came into pro ball in the Indians farm system, but was originally signed as a free agent, not drafted.

While many people considered Ramirez one of, if not THE best pure hitters in the '91 draft, there still were a lot of question marks about him, evidenced by the fact 12 other players were picked before him that year.

The Dominican-born youngster, who arrived in the United States in 1985, was long on talent but short on everything else that goes with being a professional athlete. Manny's inability to speak English in his early years made him shy away from the media, which led some to get the wrong impression about him.

Some people during his oft-time quiet days with the Indians mistook him for being rude. Nothing, quite frankly, could have been further from the truth.

The fact is, he certainly will never be confused with a Rhodes Scholar. In fact, one of his former Tribe coaches, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, once told me: "The difference between Manny Ramirez and a brick wall is that a brick wall will absorb more."

But in a round-about way, that might very well be why he is such a great hitter today. Many young hitters "think" way too much when they are at the plate. They are constantly changing their stance and making various other adjustments rather than just stepping into the box and hitting the ball the way Manny does.

Of course, very few players have Manny's natural ability. That talent is supplemented by his never-ending work on his craft.

Nor do they have his care-free personality. Still to this day, he remains a fun-loving kid who has always been popular with his teammates despite the fact he will often "borrow" items out of teammates' lockers. Leaving uncashed paychecks laying around in his locker or his car's glove compartment; asking sports writers to borrow thousands of dollars to buy a motorcycle; and showing up at the park with a variety of haircuts and colors are all part of Manny's legacy.

Most guys couldn't get away with doing anything like that. For Ramirez, it's just a part of his daily routine.

The question most Tribe fans want to know now is whether the organization has any players with Manny's offensive potential.

Unfortunately, the answer is NO! But there are at least a couple of guys who, if healthy, might have a shot at becoming very, very good major league hitters.

The one guy who some have in the past compared to Ramirez is third baseman Matt Whitney. Unfortunately, Whitney missed all of 2003 with a broken leg. This past season he pretty much played on one leg as he worked his way back from the injury.

Compounding his problems was scar tissue between two toes on his left foot that made swinging a bat very difficult and running nearly impossible. Still, he came on fairly strong over the last three weeks of the season, hitting .333 to raise his '04 average to .256 at Class A Lake County.

He should be close to 100 percent health-wise by next season.

The other guy who has really impressed me with his bat is Ryan Garko, a powerful right-hand hitter who started the 2004 season at Class A Kinston, passed through Class AA Akron, and finished at Class AAA Buffalo, killing the ball at every level.

He hit .328 in 65 games at Kinston; .331 in 43 games at Akron and .350 in five games at Buffalo. That was good for an overall mark of .350 with 22 home runs and 99 RBI.

Garko is now playing in the Arizona Fall League, where he is hitting in the mid-.300s, which ranks him in the Top 10 in the AFL.

Garko is similar to Manny in several ways. Unlike other Stanford University products like Jody Gerut and Jason Cooper, Garko doesn't overanalyze his swing. He simply sees the ball and hits the ball, ala Manny.

Also like Manny, Garko is not a strong defensive player. His senior season at Stanford. he won the Johnny Bench Award, which goes annually to college baseball's top catcher, but that was based almost exclusively upon his offensive prowess.

When the Indians selected him in the third round of the 2003 draft, they assured him they would give him every opportunity to make it to the big leagues as a catcher.

The only person standing between Garko and a big league catching job is Garko. Unfortunately, despite some intense instruction from minor league roving instructor (and former Tribe catcher) Chris Bando, Garko has not yet shown the defensive improvement necessary to make him a legitimate everyday catching prospect.

Thus, Garko, a pleasant 23-year-old from Pittsburgh, is now splitting his time between catcher and first base. He might very well end up as a designated hitter on the major-league level. Don't be surprised if he plays for Cleveland at some point in '05.

Finally, the other similarity is that much like Manny, Garko doesn't have a great deal of foot speed.

Now, if Garko can find a way to hit like Manny on the major-league level, he could be a future World Series MVP. And if that happens, then Danny O'Dowd, Mickey White and Joe Delucca will have to share some of their new-found glory with John Mirabelli, farm director John Farrell and Don Lyle, the scout who signed Garko.

But, hopefully, this time it will be while Garko is wearing Chief Wahoo on his jersey.

Ryan Garko

Matt Whitney

Indians Baseball Insider Top Stories