Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/1/12
By John Pesetski Special to FOXSportsWisconsin.com PHOENIX You don't replace a player like Prince Fielder. You adjust to his departure. You add a few pieces, you move around others and you ask for a little bit more out of everybody else.Aramis Ramirez, the Milwaukee Brewers' new third baseman, agrees. He will fill Fielder's cleanup spot in the lineup if not Fielder's spot at first base but knows he's just part of the team's plan to move on without the Detroit Tigers' 214 million man."I'm not replacing Prince Fielder," Ramirez said this week. "You're talking about 50 homers and a lot of runs. I'm going to do my best to have a good season and produce here like I always have. It's what I do."Signed by the Brewers as a free agent in December, the 33-year-old third baseman has been among the best in baseball at his position for more than a decade. In 14 seasons, all with the NL Central's Pirates and Cubs, Ramirez has hit .284 with 315 home runs and 1,122 RBI. In fact, those 315 home runs rank him eighth all-time at his position. He's also steadily improved his defense since coming up with Pittsburgh in 1998 at age 20. The native of the Dominican Republic has twice been named an All-Star and finished in the in the Top 10 in MVP voting in 2004 and 2008.The 2011 season marked a comeback of sorts for Ramirez. Hampered by injuries that cost him considerable time in both 2009 and 2010, the slugger rebounded in 2011 to post his best numbers since 2008. The winner of last season's NL Silver Slugger Award at third base, Ramirez hit .306 with 26 homers, 93 RBI and an .871 OPS.However at age 33, some, including Ramirez himself, have questioned how many more productive years the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder has left. Recognizing that he is getting older, the right-hander takes a different approach to his offseason work than he did when he was younger."I know what I have to do more now; I'll be 34 this year," he said. "I have to stay on top of my body more now. The baseball stuff is always there for me. So really I just try to work on body before I get to camp."Ramirez is also working hard to help the Brewers' new infield come together as a group. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez came over from Atlanta as a free agent, and youngster Mat Gamel will likely take over for Fielder at first base. Only second baseman Rickie Weeks remains from last year's starting infield. Ramirez likes the progress they've made as a unit so far."We've got three new guys in the infield, but most of us have all been around awhile," he said. "Rickie and Alex are great players, and we're all working hard. We've played against each other and know each other. Time will tell, but I think we'll be OK."Manager Ron Roenicke appreciates Ramirez's glovework."Defensively, he has really good hands," Roenicke said. "He's got a good arm, too. So far, I like what I've seen." However, it is Ramirez's record as a cleanup hitter over the past decade that has Roenicke most intrigued."Offensively, he's our No. 4 hitter," the manager said. "He's always hit well against us. And, if you look at his career, he's had some huge years in Pittsburgh and Chicago. He hits for average. He's got power, and he drives in runs. And, he's a sharp guy."With either right fielder Corey Hart or Weeks hitting in the fifth slot most days, Ramirez knows he'll see some good pitches."Rickie and Corey are both very capable of hitting fifth," he said. "They're good hitters in this league and can do a lot of things with the bat. It will be good having them there in the lineup."And the feeling goes both ways."I always thought he was a great player," Weeks said of Ramirez. "I've see him evolve as a player with the Cubs over my seven years, and he's impressive. He was tough on us with Chicago, but he's fitting in well here."Perhaps most happy of all to see Ramirez out of a Cubs uniform and at the Brewers' Maryvale spring training complex is pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Ramirez has hit the Brewers ace at a .389 clip with a 1.061 OPS in 18 career at-bats."Playing against him the last few years, you could see how hard he worked," Gallardo said. "I've always seen that playing against him, and we're all seeing it here in camp." As the top third baseman and one of the better cleanup hitters on the free-agent market this winter, Ramirez had his choice of many suitors, including the Cubs, whom he joined in the middle of the 2003 season. However, he chose the Brewers in December because he felt they had the pieces in place to win again in 2012."I liked that they had a chance to win the next few years," he said. "We have a great young pitching staff and a good bullpen. And I knew that with (Ryan) Braun and Hart we could score some runs. I'm looking forward to hitting in Miller Park more often, too. It's a great place to play baseball. I want to produce here and be a good part of this team."
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