Hanley could hold his own in MVP race

Hanley could hold his own in MVP race

MIAMI -- To the Marlins, Hanley Ramirez is the club's clear-cut Most Valuable Player. There is little dispute from within the organization or those who follow the team.

For three consecutive seasons, the South Florida chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America has recognized Ramirez as the Marlins' MVP in its annual voting.

But is the Marlins' 25-year-old sensation the MVP of the National League?

We'll find out on Tuesday, when the BBWAA announces the NL winner, a day after the American League recipient is named.

Conventional wisdom says Ramirez will come up short. St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols is considered a lock to take home the honor. Ramirez, however, may finish second, which would be higher than any player in Marlins history.

Milwaukee's Prince Fielder also is regarded as a top three candidate.

Only twice in their history have the Marlins had a player finish in the top five in the MVP voting. Miguel Cabrera placed fifth in 2005 and '06.

Ramirez has experienced a top 10 placement. In 2007, he ended up seventh.

In the eyes of many, it's just a matter of time before Ramirez takes home the MVP. In terms of pure talent, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound shortstop from the Dominican Republic already ranks among the best in the game.

Blessed with the rare combination of speed and power, Ramirez has raked in a number of impressive honors in four full big league seasons.

Ramirez won the NL batting title this year, becoming the first Florida player to do so. He's also received the NL Silver Slugger Award for shortstops. In 2006, he was voted as NL Rookie of the Year.

Primarily a leadoff hitter his first three seasons, Ramirez was switched to third in the lineup in 2009 to emphasize his power. He batted a franchise-best .342.

For the second straight year, Ramirez captured the Silver Slugger, as he finished with 106 RBIs and a .543 slugging percentage.

"I'm thankful to God and to my family for their support," Ramirez said after receiving the Silver Slugger in early November. "The Marlins organization and my great teammates [I thank] for their help in my getting this award. It's all a result of hard work and dedication, and I always strive to get better and to do what I can to help my team succeed."

The face of the franchise, Ramirez helped lead the Marlins to a second-place finish in the NL East and an 87-75 record. The wins total was the third-most in team history.

Ramirez is the first NL shortstop to win the batting title since Dick Groat of the Pirates in 1960.

How rare is it for an NL shortstop to claim the title? Consider that Ramirez is just the fourth one to do it. He also joins Arky Vaughan (1935) and Honus Wagner, a seven-time batting champ. Wagner, one of the early greats in baseball history, last won a batting title in 1911.

Being in elite company is nothing new for Ramirez, the only Marlins player voted in as the NL's starting All-Star shortstop twice.

His overall numbers are staggering. Along with his .342 batting average, he had a .410 on-base percentage, while scoring 101 runs and adding 197 hits, including 42 doubles. And he stole 27 bases.

Entering 2009, Ramirez had never hit a grand slam in the big leagues. He ended that drought by collecting three this past year.

Defensively, he also made tremendous strides, committing just 10 errors after posting 22 in 2008. Ramirez had a string of 56 consecutive games without an error -- from July 4-Sept. 12. His previous best streak was 28 games in 2008.

"Nothing surprises me about this guy," manager Fredi Gonzalez said late in the season. "With this guy, the sky is the limit. I think we're just reaching the tip of the iceberg on him. Everybody talks about his offense, but how about his defense? His numbers have improved tremendously."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.