FORT MYERS, Fla. — He watches from outside the fence beyond the workout field, arms folded and eyes focused on Hanley Ramirez.
Every shuffle of the feet.
Every all-out attempt to catch a fly ball over his head.
“We’ve been working hard since November,” said Bladimir Marte, Ramirez’s personal strength and conditioning coach who is also the team doctor for the legendary Dominican winter ball team Leones del Escogido.
It’s all about health for the often-injured Ramirez.
In this day of mega-million contracts, Ramirez employs Marte full-time to watch over his workouts and keep him healthy. This was an especially big offseason. Not only did Ramirez come back to the team that originally signed him, but he also changed positions from shortstop to left field.
Marte has been overseeing the physical aspects of that change for his client, from the shorter, explosive bursts of a shortstop to the running and gliding of an outfielder.
Ramirez signed a four-year, $88 million deal with a vesting option for a fifth year. He is 31 years old. His body has changed dramatically since he was a tall, skinny, 17-year-old kid on the ball fields of the old Edison Avenue complex in downtown Fort Myers.
According to Marte, Ramirez now weighs in at 240 pounds on a 6-foot-3-inch frame.
He is now built to be a power hitter, and no longer has a shortstop’s body, which is why no team would have employed him as a shortstop, though the Mariners thought about it.
“He’s never been bigger and more muscular,” said Marte, who has worked with Ramirez for three years. “We worked on getting his upper body and shoulders bigger and to work on his core and lower back. He’s had back problems, but he’s gone to see Dr. [Robert] Watkins in Los Angeles last year.
“Our goal, through specific exercises to the back, is to keep his back strong. That will avoid a lot of problems. Right now he feels great.
“There are obviously different movements he has to make transitioning from the infield to the outfield, but for the most part, the move to the outfield should help him physically.”
Marte feels Ramirez has taken well to the outfield.
From November to January, Ramirez worked out at Santo Domingo’s Estadio Quisqueya, where there is a high center-field wall, and Marte said Ramirez took balls off the wall repeatedly in an effort to simulate the Green Monster effect.
Marte is no stranger to working with ballplayers.
He worked out Robinson Cano for three years and has also worked with David Ortiz. He said his duties should not conflict with those of the Red Sox training and strength and conditioning staff.
“They know who I am,” Marte said. “We’re just trying to keep Hanley strong and productive.
“He’s a great athlete. A great hitter. He’s so excited about coming back to Boston. He wants to do so well and show everyone he can play left field and really contribute to the team.
“He was very happy all winter waiting for the opportunity to come here and start working. I’ve never seen him so happy.”
Ramirez’s $22 million vesting option in 2019 kicks in if he makes 1,050 plate appearances in 2017 and 2018, so he’ll need to be healthy late in the contract.
Ramirez played in 128 games last season, and only 86 in 2013. The last time he played a full season was, 2012 when he played 157 between the Marlins and Dodgers. In 2011, he played in 92 games.
When healthy, Ramirez is a hitting savant.
He won the 2009 National League batting title (.342) with the Marlins. He’s a career .300 hitter with an .873 OPS.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington always has admired Ramirez’s raw talent and feels his bat could be an important cog in the lineup, likely in the cleanup spot behind Ortiz.
Cherington was Boston’s acting general manager when the team traded Ramirez to the Marlins along with pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Harvey Garcia, and Jesus Delgado for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett.
Ramirez developed into one of the top young players in baseball with the Marlins, but because of a growing salary (he was in the middle of a six-year, $70 million deal) and personality issues, Miami decided not to rebuild with him.
The Marlins traded him to Los Angeles in July 2012, but the Dodgers, and manager Don Mattingly in particular, also grew frustrated by his injuries.
As a Dodger, Ramirez suffered injuries to his hand, thumb, elbow, calf, shoulder, hamstrings, oblique (which required disabled list time), and ribs (as the result of a 95-m.p.h. Joe Kelly fastball).
This is why the baseball world shuddered a bit at Boston’s enormous financial commitment to him. The Mariners, Astros, Giants, and Orioles all explored him on some level. The Mariners seemed to be the only team looking at him as a shortstop, while the Giants and Astros were thinking third base.
The Orioles even considered second base.
But the Red Sox came forth with the left field idea, out of left field. And then it started to make sense that moving to the outfield should reduce the wear and tear on his body.
Obviously, Ramirez is trying hard to get over the injury-prone label.
According to Marte, who will travel with Ramirez all season, he is on a mission to be a great player for the Red Sox and wants to make sure the health part is taken care of so no one questions his durability again.