Giants prospect Heliot Ramos confident as he closes in on MLB dreams


Giants prospect Heliot Ramos confident as he closes in on MLB dreams

SAN FRANCISCO -- The statement was bold, but Giants officials loved it. 

Heliot Ramos, 17 at the time, visited Oracle Park a few weeks after he was taken in the first round in 2017 and announced that he hoped to be back and in the lineup in three years.

A few feet away, manager Bruce Bochy sat with some members of the front office. They smiled and said they hoped the confident young outfielder would reach his dreams. 

The three-year mark comes next summer, and it turns out Ramos' lofty goal might have actually been pretty reasonable. The Giants hope he'll start next season in Triple-A, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said recently the hope is that Ramos and Joey Bart debut next season. 

As he leaned back on a bench outside Salt River Fields in Scottsdale earlier this week, Ramos -- who is playing in the Arizona Fall League -- flashed a wide smile as his teenage words were repeated back to him. 

"I hope so, but I've got a different mindset now," he said. "I've learned how baseball works. I always knew it was hard because I've seen it with my brother (minor leaguer Henry Ramos), but I'd never experienced it myself."

It's a difficult journey through the minors, but more and more, hitters are breaking through before they're even legally old enough to drink. Since Ramos sat in that dugout three years ago, players like Juan Soto (currently 20), Ronald Acuña Jr. (21), Fernando Tatis Jr. (20) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (20) have become fixtures in MLB lineups. 

It's a big part of the game now, and that age gap is what made Ramos' 2019 season so exciting. Overall, he hit .290 with a .369 on-base percentage, .481 slugging percentage and 16 homers in a season that was shortened to 102 games because of a knee sprain. 

But Ramos was more than three years younger than the average hitter in the California League, and five years younger than average in the Eastern League. Even now in the Fall League, where the top prospects are often younger, Ramos -- who doesn't turn 21 until next September -- is 3.2 years below the average age of hitters. 

Ramos has struggled in the Fall League, picking up just seven hits in 41 at-bats, and his numbers took a dip in Double-A. He had a .742 OPS in 25 games there but said he loved the challenge. 

"It was pretty cool," he said. "I liked the competition there. I liked the players there. It was really good and I liked my time there a lot. The pitchers, they execute more than at other levels. The stuff might be the same, but they execute better and they know what they're doing."

The jump from Double-A to the big leagues can be a short one, but Ramos still has some work to do. His plate discipline was much better in his second full season, but he did strike out in 30 percent of his at-bats. The Giants have kept Ramos in center field, which he is happy about, but he'll need to continue to prove that's his future home. 

[RELATED: What will Giants do with six arbitration-eligible players?]

Still, it was a promising season, one in which Ramos formed a close bond with Bart, who could hit directly behind him or in front of him at Oracle Park one day if all goes according to plan. Ramos once set out a grand vision, and he's getting close to reaching that goal. But he said he's not getting too caught up in the idea of advancing at such a young age.

"It's the same game for everybody," he said. "You just have to make adjustments. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, you just have to play baseball. It's the same for everybody."

Why Giants will have to make even faster evaluations if MLB returns

Why Giants will have to make even faster evaluations if MLB returns

One thing fans learned right away in Farhan Zaidi's first season in charge is that the new-look front office is remarkably fast when it comes to altering the roster. The Giants could move even faster in 2020, though. 

If the season returns in July as hoped, the Giants expect to play 82 games, meaning the long six-month grind is now a bit of a sprint to the finish line. That will have a big impact on roster moves, and during his last appearance on KNBR, manager Gabe Kapler said the staff is already discussing how to handle this, knowing they don't have nearly as much time to evaluate players. 

"We don't necessarily have 82 games to evaluate that and then have another 82 to put the best defense out there," he said. "We actually have to make decisions sooner, we have to evaluate better in this modified camp that we have coming up. So the 82-game schedule absolutely makes us think about the roster construction differently and also about game strategy differently, for sure."

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Kapler mentioned that one discussion going on right now is about center field and right, and which players will be the best options. Even though it might have seemed like Gerardo Parra got a quick hook last year, he did actually play 30 games before being designated for assignment. Yangervis Solarte, another veteran, lasted until May 7.

The Giants seemed set to take a long look at Billy Hamilton this year and potentially break with Darin Ruf in the mix, but if they're looking to stay in the NL West race over half a season, perhaps they'll lean more towards sticking Mike Yastrzemski or Mauricio Dubon in center every day, guaranteeing more consistency for the lineup. 

Dubon is also part of the flip side of this. The front office hoped to give some younger players a few hundred at-bats to sink or swim, but that's not really possible with 82 games. If Dubon struggles early on to stick in his new utility role, that experiment might be halted until 2021. Jaylin Davis might have started the season in Triple-A, but the Giants now won't have that option, and they could run Davis out there every day in right field. But they certainly wouldn't have as many at-bats to play with if Davis gets off to a slow start. 

[RELATED: Giants affiliate lists stadium on Airbnb]

The rotation will be impacted, too. Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly have been viewed as potential 2020 versions of Drew Pomeranz, but Pomeranz struggled quite a bit before he was moved to the bullpen, where he became a good trade chip. That first relief appearance, though, didn't come until the Giants had played 101 games. There won't be nearly as much time to evaluate the pitchers who came in on one-year contracts. 

There are going to be a lot of wrinkles to an 82-game season, and this is an added one. The Giants made quick evaluations last season compared to what fans have gotten used to, but they're still going to need to pick up the pace if the game returns. 

Giants' minor league affiliate to allow fans to rent stadium on Airbnb

Giants' minor league affiliate to allow fans to rent stadium on Airbnb

Have you ever wanted to field grounders on the same patch of dirt as Brandon Crawford? Or hit in the cage that Buster Posey has used to hone his swing? If you have a little disposable income, and an easy way to get to Oregon this summer, a Giants minor league affiliate is trying to make those dreams come true. 

With the minor league season almost certainly canceled, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes found a creative way to make use of their stadium in Keizer, Oregon, a small town south of Portland. They listed it on Airbnb. 

For $1,000 a night, individuals or groups can stay in the ballpark of the short-season affiliate that was home to Posey and Crawford in 2008, Tim Lincecum in 2006 and more than 100 other big leaguers over the years. Last year, Hunter Bishop and Marco Luciano were among the prospects who spent time in Salem-Keizer. 

The listing says you'll have full access to the clubhouse and training facility, which includes four indoor cages and pitching machines. You will also have use of the field and batting practice can be set up. The Volcanoes offered to supply cots for overnight guests, or you can bring sleeping bags to set up somewhere in the ballpark. Oh, and this is important: The park has WiFi. 

[RELATED: Giants coaches ready for shortened season]

The Volcanoes are offering dates throughout the summer with the caveat that bookings could be impacted by games. That's extremely unlikely, though. MLB organizations do not expect to hold a normal minor league season, and the Volcanoes also are unfortunately at risk if MLB follows through with a plan to cut 42 minor league teams permanently. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]