Giants

Giants top prospects Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos likely to start 2019 in San Jose

Giants top prospects Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos likely to start 2019 in San Jose

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants are looking to the future, but the cornerstones of their next contender may not be far from Oracle Park in 2019. 

Farhan Zaidi believes that Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos both should begin the season in San Jose, which would give the A-ball affiliate its most exciting lineup in years, and give a jolt to more than just the fan base. 

“That would be a treat for, quite frankly, us in the office, to be able to drive over to San Jose and see these guys play,” Zaidi said at the Winter Meetings. “I’m excited to see those guys play because even though San Jose, relatively, is a pitchers’ park in the Cal League, the Cal League is a terrific environment for position players. I think those guys really have a chance to take off starting the year there.”

It was a lock that Bart, last year’s first-round pick would start the year in San Jose. He tore up opposing pitching in his first stint as a professional, hitting 13 homers in 45 games for Salem-Keizer last season. But there was some question about Ramos’ immediate future after he posted a .709 OPS in his first full professional season.

Still, he was in Low-A ball as an 18-year-old, and the Giants liked the way he handled himself. Barring a rough camp, he’ll be in San Jose with Bart. 

The question now is how long both will stay an hour away from Oracle Park. Zaidi said it’s hard to “see those guys not spending at least half the season there,” but at the same time, the new man in charge has a reputation for moving top prospects quickly. Zaidi believes in challenging his best players. 

[RELATED: Brian Sabean sees 'very bright futures' for Giants top two prospects]

“My personal philosophy is to keep them moving,” he said. “Those guys are exciting, impact players, and as soon as they’re ready to play at the major league level for us, we want to have them in that position.”

Bart, 22, should be the first to the big leagues after being taken second overall last summer. The path has already been set by the man he is expected to follow in San Francisco.

In his first full professional season, Buster Posey played 80 games for San Jose and then 35 for Triple-A Fresno before getting 17 big league at-bats in September. If Bart has a huge minor league season and the team is out of the race, there’s a chance the catcher gets a look in September. 

Ramos has more work to do, but much of that is age-related. Taken 19th overall out of high school in 2017, he won’t turn 20 until September 7. The Giants are hoping to see him improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio (he whiffed 136 times last season) and tap into more of his natural power, but the talent is certainly there, and Ramos should benefit from a move to a more hitter-friendly league.

There is little blocking him in the big league outfield, and when Ramos is ready, the Giants will be. They won’t rush him, but they certainly will test him. 

“You want to find the right balance between moving guys aggressively and challenging them, versus creating too much pressure and moving them too quickly, where you can have a negative impact on their careers,” Zaidi said. “We’re going to try to walk that tightrope a bit with those guys, but we’re certainly not going to hold them back if they show dominance at that level early in the season.” 

Madison Bumgarner admits he has rodeo alias, competed while on Giants

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AP

Madison Bumgarner admits he has rodeo alias, competed while on Giants

Madison Bumgarner no longer is a Giant, but his legend keeps growing. 

The longtime San Francisco left-hander signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency this winter after a decade-long orange-and-black tenure defined by epic postseason performances, horseback rides into the Oracle Park outfield and the revelation he once dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner. His latest disclosure undoubtedly tops the list.

The Athletic's Zach Buchanan and Andrew Baggarly revealed Sunday that Bumgarner has competed in multiple rodeos under the alias "Mason Saunders," and "Saunders" confirmed it was all true in an interview with the outlet. 

“Oh boy,” Bumgarner told Buchanan and Baggarly when they showed Bumgarner a photo of him from a Dec. 3 rodeo where he won $26,560 in a team-roping competition. “This is ruining my alias.”

The photo was taken just under two weeks before Bumgarner signed with the Diamondbacks, and the ace also admitted he competed in an event in March 2019 while he was still with the Giants. That event, according to Buchanan and Baggarly, came two days before he made a start in Spring Training against the Oakland A's and just under two years after the Giants placed him on the disabled list following an off-day dirt-bike accident in Denver.

Bumgarner missed nearly three months that season, making just 17 starts. He did tell the Wrangler Network in 2014 that he ropes right-handed, however, and he told Buchanan and Baggarly that the alias was more about avoiding attention than keeping secrets from his former and current employers.

He used an alias, but this is still ultra-competitive Madison Bumgarner we're talking about. 

“No matter what hobbies I have, I take ‘em serious,” Bumgarner told Buchanan and Baggarly. “That’s just my personality. I don’t do anything just for fun, per se. I wish I did.”

[RELATED: Top Giants prospect Hjelle lights it up in his spring debut]

Bumgarner will make his first visit to Oracle Park since signing a five-year, $85 million contract with Arizona on April 6 when the Diamondbacks visit San Francisco for a four-game set. 

Some bitter Giants fans might relish the chance to address the 30-year-old and the horse he rode out on, but they probably didn't know how real the euphemism was until Buchanan and Baggarly got the scoop.

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

MESA, Ariz. -- With the Giants nursing a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday, manager Gabe Kapler called right-handed prospect Luis Madero into the game. As Madero faced the A's, Sean Hjelle started warming up in the bullpen. Kapler saw Hjelle getting loose and called down to make sure he knew he was getting the ninth, not part of the eighth. 

"He was the one pitcher today who got loose before we told him to get loose," Kapler said, smiling. 

The 22-year-old, picked one round after Joey Bart in the 2018 draft, was excited to make his spring debut for the big league club and hid any butterflies. Hjelle is known for standing 6-foot-11 and having uncanny command and body control for a pitcher that size. But he came out throwing 95 mph and bumped 96 in a perfect inning, closing out a 5-3 win that clinched Kapler's first handshake line in orange and black. 

"As much as we're excited by his stuff, we're also excited by him pounding the strike zone," Kapler said. "That's certainly encouraging to see him come out there in this situation, certainly a nerve-wracking situation, and fill up the zone with his fastball."

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, reached Double-A last season and could debut this year. It was one inning and he was amped up, but the ceiling certainly will get a bit higher if he's sitting 95 in the future instead of the low 90s. The Giants always have felt there was more velocity in that massive frame. 

Here are four more observations from the first 18 innings of the Kapler Era ... 

--- There was a new whiteboard up in the clubhouse this morning with a bunch of circles and a spot for each game this spring. A photo of a beaming Austin Slater was glued inside the first circle, making him the "baserunning BOSS" from Saturday's game. The Giants have put a heavy emphasis on leads and turns this spring and the new staff has identified that as one area they can gain an edge. One player will be recognized after every game. 

We'll see if it works. This isn't a roster with much speed, but guys were aggressive Sunday and it led to a couple runs. Kapler credited first base coach Antoan Richardson for his work thus far. 

"We really want them to push the envelope," he said. 

--- Kapler has been hesitant to offer many public criticisms, but when asked about Derek Rodriguez the other day, he immediately mentioned that the staff needed to see more velocity from the starter/reliever heading into his third season. Rodriguez's average fastball dropped from 91.6 to 90.7 year over year. Rodriguez pumped a few 93s in his first inning of the spring and generally sat at 92, a positive sign this early.

"The first day of the spring, I'm happy about that," he said. 

Rodriguez said he took just two weeks off in the offseason -- to plan for his wedding -- and then got to work on mechanical changes. He made three Winter League starts and was encouraged by how he felt there. 

--- When Max Muncy came up early in Saturday's game, Evan Longoria shifted over to the right side but he didn't stand where he would last year. Longoria played kind of behind the first baseman, with Donovan Solano playing up the middle behind the bag. Last year the Giants had Longoria shift over between the second baseman and shortstop; this year he's between the second baseman and first baseman. It makes a lot more sense this way, allowing the actual second baseman to stay close to the bag where he might have to make a turn.

[RELATED: How might the Giants use 26th roster spot?]

--- Some early standouts, aside from Mauricio Dubon and Joey Bart, who homered Saturday: Matt Carasiti, a non-roster invite who struck out the side in his lone inning and got A.J. Pollock and Kiké Hernandez ... Abiatal Avelino, who hit a laser onto the berm in left on Sunday ... Kean Wong, who had two hits and showed his speed ... Finally, Rob Brantly, who has brought constant energy to camp and capped Sunday's game by yelling "Never in doubt!" as the Giants celebrated a spring win. Every team needs a quirky backup catcher, right?