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Giants switch-pitcher Pat Venditte draws early crowd at Spring Training

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Giants switch-pitcher Pat Venditte draws early crowd at Spring Training

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants are getting closer and closer to having the full squad on the field. Pablo Sandoval took batting practice with Steven Duggar and Ryder Jones. Brandon Belt played catch on a back field. Mac Williamson shagged fly balls. 

Sunday is officially reporting day for position players, but nearly all of them have checked in already, well ahead of Monday’s first full squad workout. 

For a couple more days, though, the focus is on pitchers and catchers, so here are some observations from Day 4 ...

Something They Haven’t Seen

Pat Venditte, the switch-pitcher, is as fascinating to many of the Giants as he is to fans. As he warmed up his right arm Saturday, a member of the staff walked up and asked him to explain how he became a switch-pitcher. He has drawn a crowd during bullpen sessions, and manager Bruce Bochy joked about how he may use Venditte. 

“When I’m stuck and I don’t know which matchup I want, I’ll put him out there,” Bochy said smiling. “I can’t get questioned.”

Venditte has had more success as a lefty in his career but from both sides he gets good movement on his pitches. Bochy noted that he had a good season with the Dodgers, posting a 2.57 ERA in 15 appearances last year. 

“It’s pretty impressive, really, what he’s able to do,” Bochy said.

Young Power

Aramis Garcia has been a standout all week, showing easy power during batting practice. Bochy said he was happy with the work the young catcher put in over the offseason. 

"He's a strong kid," he said. "He has more power than you think"

Garcia hit four homers last September, and they weren't fluky. That's a nice trait to have as a backup catcher; it's often hard to stay in rhythm, but Nick Hundley brought some power to the lineup on his days, too. 

The other homegrown catching prospect in camp also had an impressive day. With Bochy and Farhan Zaidi watching a few feet away, Joey Bart hit a series of rockets the opposite way and over the fence in right, including a couple that clanked off the facing of the bar on top of the bullpens at Scottsdale Stadium. 

Familiar Face

Dan Fouts, the Hall of Fame quarterback, watched BP and spent about 20 minutes chatting with Bochy.

"He always stops by and spends a day with us in the spring," Bochy said. "He's a Giants fan."

Fouts is a San Francisco native who graduated from St. Ignatius in the city. 

Buster Posey feels healthy, but Giants still waiting for results at plate

Buster Posey feels healthy, but Giants still waiting for results at plate

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Nolan Arenado came to Oracle Park last week with no home runs, and as surprising as that was, it was even more shocking when he went the first three games of the series without doing his usual damage against Giants pitching. But Arenado hit a homer Sunday, and then promptly went deep Monday and Tuesday in San Diego. All he needed was one to open the floodgates. 

That's not exactly the kind of breakthrough Buster Posey is picturing. Asked about players like Arenado, Posey smiled.

"I'd love to hit three in a row," he said.

Posey would settle for one isolated blast at this point. He hasn't taken a long trot around the bases since last June 19, when he took Dan Straily deep. That's 62 appearances, including 17 this season that have come with a repaired hip. The streak of 229 at-bats without a homer is the longest of Posey's career and fourth-longest among non-pitchers currently. 

Manager Bruce Bochy has remained patient, keeping Posey in the heart of the lineup. Bochy doesn't exactly have a bunch of options for that spot, anyway, but this goes deeper. The only manager Posey has ever known believes he will find his old form, or at least most of it. 

"It's only going to get better with him," Bochy said. 

Posey has tried to keep that mindset, although he admitted you can be challenged mentally when you look up at a scoreboard in the second half of April and see zero homers and just one RBI. 

"You feel a responsibility to your team to drive in runs when you're hitting in that part of the lineup," said Posey, who is batting .196. "At the same time, what's past is past. I know from experience that if you harp on that stuff there's nothing positive that can come from that."

It has for most of April been a struggle to find signs that what's ahead will be more positive. Posey is swinging at pitches outside the strike zone at the highest rate of his career, and his contact rate is the lowest of his career. That has led to a strikeout rate (19 percent) that's seven points above his career average. Posey has pulled just 23.3 percent of the balls he has put in play this season, the lowest rate in the MLB, according to Inside-Edge.

Perhaps all of this is in part because of a change in the way pitchers are approaching the former MVP. It's still a small sample, but Posey is seeing fastballs just 58 percent of the time, which also is the lowest rate of his career. Only three of his hits have come off non-fastballs. 

The Giants are aware of the numbers, but they prefer to focus on the moments when it all clicks. Against the Padres last week, Posey hit two balls at 107 mph in one game. On Wednesday night, he smacked a double off the center field wall in the ninth inning. Those moments have been too spread out, though. 

"I'll feel it for a few games and then I'll kind of lose it," Posey said. "I think it's just a matter of staying positive and understanding that it's a process."

Posey said he's trying to stay even-keel, and he's not thinking about ending the home run drought.

"When you force things you get a little big and you lose some of that quickness," he said of his swing.

From a physical standpoint, he believes he's pretty close to back to normal.

[RELATED: Giants really encouraged by Ramos' maturity at plate]

That's the other factor Bochy is leaning on. Posey is not far removed from major hip surgery, and he has been his old self defensively. Even if the bat isn't there, that has allowed Bochy to comfortably keep his star in the lineup, leading a pitching staff that's carried the team. Posey was off Thursday -- a day game after a night game -- but could play all three games in Pittsburgh this weekend. Bochy said he hasn't needed to sit Posey with a "cranky" hip this season.

"We're getting close to how we normally would work him," Bochy said. "He's bouncing back from these games and is feeling pretty good."

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see'

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see'

Heliot Ramos looks more like a college safety playing football than a center fielder in the minor leagues. From his beard to his build, this isn't your average 19-year-old. 

Giants farm director Kyle Haines agrees.

“The physical tools are obviously there," Haines said on Tuesday's Inside The San Jose Giants Podcast

Ramos, the Giants' first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds. In person, it appears his muscular build appears even thicker, and at his young age there's still plenty of time for growth. His stature and potential turned the Giants on to draft him No. 19 overall, but it's his growth at the plate this season that has the franchise so excited. 

All offseason, Ramos worked on reading off-speed pitches better and laying off balls in the dirt while playing Winter Ball. Last season, he finished with a disappointing .313 on-base percentage. This year, Ramos is up to a .414 on-base percentage and has 11 walks to 13 strikeouts.

His ability to track late movement has stood out to Haines early in the year. 

“Those are characteristics that you usually see out of veteran hitters, and that was really encouraging to see that he’s started to acquire that skill," Haines said. 

Through 13 games, Ramos is batting .250 with 1.005 OPS for the High-A San Jose Giants. He's tied for the California League lead in home runs with four, is fourth in RBI (nine), fourth in total bases (26) and fourth in OPS. 

After starting the season 1-for-17, Ramos has 10 hits in his last 27 at-bats, good for a .370 batting average during that stretch.

“We’ve seen a huge advancement in his approach at the plate and I think that’s why you’ve seen the homers spike up a little bit," Haines said. 

It's hard to remember just how young Ramos is. When the Giants drafted him, he was only 17 years old and yet, he made a public goal of wanting to reach the major leagues in three years. Joey Bart is the talk of the Giants' farm system for all the right reasons and appears to be on the fast track to the bigs. But Ramos isn't too far behind. 

“He’d be a sophomore in college. He’s two years younger than Joey Bart," Haines reminded us. "We talk about Bart’s fast movement and then you stop and you’re thinking, ‘Hey what a minute. Heliot’s two years younger than what Joey is.’ It’s really encouraging to see … it’s exciting.” 

[RELATED: Bart, Ramos' San Jose Giants debut shows promise]

Ramos is the fifth-youngest player in the Cal League. He'll be a teenager all season long. The Giants, and fans alike, are seeing potential turn into production in only his second full season in the minors.