When he was 17 years old, Heliot Ramos sat down in the dugout at Oracle Park, smiled as he looked around, and said he hoped to be back in three years.
It was a bold dream, but one Ramos might actually have reached had the pandemic not wiped out the 2020 minor league season. Ramos now is 21, and when he met with reporters over Zoom this week, the confidence he showed a few weeks after being taken in the first round was still there.
"I'm ready," he said. "I can't wait. I'm going to do everything I can to get there and I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I can play in the big leagues."
The Giants encouraged Ramos to think boldly when he was a teenager and they'll do the same now, although they'll also pump the brakes a bit on the timeline. Ramos was drafted into an organization in desperate need of outfield help, but the current group is a strong one and allows the Giants to focus on Ramos' development over all else this season.
The outfielder is in big league camp for the first time and likely headed back to Double-A Richmond to start the year, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi says the organization will be aggressive with prospects who warrant promotions early on. Ramos should hit his way to Triple-A fairly quickly, and after that it's a short ride down the highway if the big league roster -- which does include a couple outfielders with long injury histories -- has a need.
"He was on a path to potentially play in the big leagues in 2020, and we just know that he's motivated and how highly we all think of him from an organizational standpoint," Zaidi said earlier this spring. "It's going to be fun to see him out there."
Zaidi inherited Ramos as one of his top prospects, and he watched in 2019 as he made a necessary adjustment. The Giants have gone all-in on control of the strike zone, and Ramos, taken 19th overall in 2017, initially wasn't a fit. He struck out 136 times and walked just 35 times in 2018, but a year later he started to push those numbers in the right direction, with 118 strikeouts to 42 walks.
Aside from the raw numbers the Giants simply saw an improvement in pitch recognition, which allowed Ramos to tap into some of his tremendous raw power and hit 16 homers in 102 games for San Jose and Richmond. Ramos said he started to make adjustments while playing in Puerto Rico after the 2018 season, noting that the pitchers there threw him a ton of breaking balls that he had to learn to lay off.
"I've been working on focusing more and not swinging at everything that I see," he said. "I have to pick one zone, one pitch, and I've got to do my thing. I'm still working on it. I'm not perfect, obviously. I'm still working on it and I'm still trying to improve."
Ramos didn't play a competitive game in 2020 but spent the summer at Spring Training 2.0 and the alternate site, and said he feels that helped give him an even better idea at the plate. He continues to work on calming down in the batter's box, and this spring he wants to show that he has a better feel of the strike zone and an ability to play strong defense in the outfield.
It's the defensive side where the Giants ultimately will have to answer a big question with Ramos. He had a mature frame at 17 and scouts have long thought Ramos would end up in a corner. Ramos said he's currently about 230 pounds, but his manager, a former outfielder, doesn't see any reason for a change right now.
"He's fast enough and he's athletic enough to handle center field," Gabe Kapler said. "I think what we want to do from a development perspective is give our players a chance to develop in that premium position and then ultimately at some point if they need to move to one of the corners they will. Right now we're thinking about Ramos as a guy who can play all three (outfield) positions but is very much a center fielder and we'll adjust accordingly if necessary. He shows all of the tools needed to be a center fielder at the major league level."
Ramos said he would like to stay in center field, but that's a decision that can be pushed down the road. For now, his focus is on making up for a lost year and catching up to one of his closest friends. Joey Bart got his feet wet in 2020, and this should be the year when Ramos, the consensus No. 3 Giants prospect behind Bart and Marco Luciano, does the same.
"I can't stop thinking about it," he said. "That's my dream, you know? That's what I want to do."