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 mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff


Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff

SAN DIEGO -- When you hear the words "player development," you think of 19-year-olds learning on back fields at the minor league facility in Scottsdale, or a roving hitting instructor spending time making swing changes with prospects Joey Bart or Heliot Ramos, or a coach teaching a Logan Webb or Sean Hjelle a new pitch. 

But when Giants manager Gabe Kapler talks about player development -- and he does so often -- he's also thinking about guys like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Kapler said this week that there's "not much I feel more strongly about" than players continuing to develop at the big league level, and that played a huge role as he hired a young staff that will ideally bring an innovative approach.

"There's evidence all over the place in Major League Baseball about players who reinvent themselves or take major steps forward and reestablish their value at the Major League level," Kapler said this week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

The Giants are building for the future, but they also believe they can squeeze much more out of the existing core. And when Bart and Ramos are veterans one day, they want those guys to continue to find new levels, too. As he talked about player development at the big league level, Kapler pivoted and told a story about Bryce Harper, who already had more than 900 games under his belt when he joined Kapler's Phillies last season. 

"Bryce Harper, I think, was influenced heavily by Paco Figueroa, our first base and outfield coach, mostly just because Paco was not concerned about approaching Bryce," Kapler said. "He recognized that Bryce Harper wanted to be coached and wanted to develop, and he was willing to approach. Bryce recognized that so much so that at the end of the year when we were doing our exit meetings, Bryce recognized that Paco had been influential in his career and helped him become a better outfielder and baserunner."

Harper was worth negative-26 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 according to Fangraphs -- just about the only blemish on his résumé as a free agent -- but was plus-9 in his first season in Philadelphia, a massive improvement. The Giants were actually intent on going that path long before Kapler arrived. When they offered Harper $310 million last year, their existing analytics and coaching staffs had ideas about how they could get more out of Harper defensively with positioning changes. 

Harper's not the only example the Giants will use to sell their vision to veteran players. General manager Scott Harris mentioned Gerrit Cole as another who found new ways to add to his game. 

"Look at the strides he made the last two seasons and now he signed the largest free-agent contract (for a pitcher) in the history of the game," Harris said. "You look at the strides he made when he first burst onto the scene for the Pirates and what he did in Houston. Their coaching staff was largely responsible for the development he saw at the Major League level."

The Astros' staff has gotten a lot of credit for turning Cole into the pitcher the Pirates were expecting when they took him first overall in 2011. Cole had a 3.50 ERA in Pittsburgh and a 2.68 ERA in Houston, where his strikeout rate jumped from 8.4 per nine innings to 13.1. He was worth 15.4 WAR in five seasons with the Pirates and then skyrocketed to 13.4 in two seasons in Houston. 

[RELATED: Kershaw believes Dodgers signing MadBum would be 'great']

Kapler and Harris are not walking into an organization that has a Harper or Cole, but they believe their new coaching staff and player-development methods can get the most out of existing talent. That'll be a focus in spring training, and the conversations have already begun with some veterans. Kapler, who mentioned J.D. Martinez as another example of late-career adjustments, said he has spoken to Posey multiple times since getting hired. 

"I think that a lot of established successful Major Leaguers want to get better and sometimes they don't know how," Kapler said. "In some cases, it's because coaches haven't approached them because they don't want to break something that's working well, but I think those days are gone and I think players crave having coaches approach them and ask them to make changes."

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Despite what Giants fans want to believe, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw are friends.

Before many Giants-Dodgers games over the years, they could be seen talking on the field, in plain sight of everyone.

So it should come as any surprise that Kershaw would love to have Bumgarner on the Dodgers.

"I love Bum," Kershaw said Friday at a Dodgers holiday event according to Dodgers Nation. "If we signed him, that’d be great."

NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported Thursday, citing sources, that the Dodgers and Bumgarner have a mutual interest in a deal.

Bumgarner in Dodger blue is the worst nightmare for Giants fans. But it's a real possibility with Los Angeles missing out on top free agent Gerrit Cole.

[RELATED: Padres reportedly looking at Bumgarner]

Kershaw hasn't been able to bring a World Series to Los Angeles on his own, so of course, he would love for a postseason hero to come help him end the Dodgers' title drought.