Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos' San Jose Giants debut shows promise that awaits

Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos' San Jose Giants debut shows promise that awaits

VISALIA -- Heliot Ramos stood in the batter’s box at Recreation Park in his San Jose Giants debut. But the man on deck, not San Francisco's No. 2 prospect, was the one who attracted a visiting Giants fan's attention. 

“Joey, Joey! Look over here, Joey,” the fan said behind the first-base dugout.

Joey just happens to be Joey Bart, the player every Giants fan from San Francisco to Visalia and back can’t stop talking about right now. In his first at-bat of the 2019 season, he proved why.

Bart took a two-strike pitch to right field for an RBI single, plating leadoff hitter Bryce Johnson to open the scoring against the Visalia Rawhide.

Even though Bart was drafted just a year ago, he looks far ahead of his time. From his stature to his calm demeanor at the plate, the 22-year-old catcher seems to belong in ballparks well above Visalia’s caliber. But even he admits he had Opening Day butterflies.

“It’s kind of weird, this is my first Opening Day,” Bart said to NBC Sports Bay Area after the Giants’ 7-3 win over the Rawhide. “I know I played last year, but I didn’t open up with these guys. I’m telling you, it was kind of weird thinking before the game like, ‘Here I am out in the middle of nowhere in California.’

"The last couple years, I’ve been opening up in my hometown. It’s a little different. There was definitely some jitters there, but it was good to just get out there and compete.”

During batting practice before their California League debuts, Bart, the Giants' top prospect, and Ramos, ranked No. 2, both impressed with their opposite-field power. Former Sacramento River Cats manager Bob Mariano, who also was the Giants’ minor league hitting coordinator from 2005 to 2011 and now serves as a scout, was in attendance and watched both prospects for the first time.

“Really good power the other way,” Mariano said to NBC Sports Bay Area. "When you see guys that have natural power to the opposite field, you have to do pretty much everything right. You have to let the ball get a little deeper, get good backspin on it, square it up. … That’s the first that jumped out to me."

Ramos, who's just 19, showed off that opposite-field power in the top of the third. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the box score, though.

Ramos crushed a deep fly to the right-center field gap for what looked like an extra-base hit. But Visalia center fielder Jake McCarthy, the Arizona Diamondbacks' No. 8 prospect, was having none of it. Ramos had to settle for a sacrifice fly, as McCarthy made an outstanding diving catch right in front of the warning track.

After dealing with two defensive gems that robbed him of potential base hits, Ramos doubled down the left-field line in the fifth for his first hit in a San Jose uniform.

“I feel relieved,” the center fielder told NBC Sports Bay Area after the win. “I got my first hit in High-A, you know? I was feeling good in all my at-bats. I mean, it [defensive plays] just happens.”

Bart knocked in Ramos one batter later with his second RBI single to right. 

So, all it took was one game for this duo to show the kind of 1-2 punch the Giants hope to feature for years to come.

“I feel really comfortable,” Ramos said about Bart hitting right behind him in San Jose's lineup. “I know he’s got me. I know he’s gonna drive that run in.”

The elder feels the same batting behind the teen, as Bart poured praise on Ramos.

“It’s fun,” Bart said. “Obviously you can see he hits a lot of balls on the barrel. He's a really good player, really good hitter.

"It’s fun to watch him. I had a good time kind of sitting there and admiring what he does out there. He’s a kid at 19 years old doing that. It's very impressive.”

Bart stands at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, looking every bit the part of a big leaguer in a Single-A jersey. As Mariano put it, he’s a “big, strong kid.”

Early in the count, Bart doesn’t hold back. There’s a reason he hit 13 home runs in just 45 games last year for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. His ability to work long at-bats and drive the ball the other way with two strikes is what really stood out, however.

“I’m just trying to see the ball deep right now,” Bart said. “I feel like I’ve been geared up in camp. Just trying to take it back a little bit and stay with what I do, which is usually go the other way. I’m just trying to hit good pitches and hit them hard.”

Bart finished the night 2-for-4 with two RBI, one run scored and one walk. Ramos went 1-for-3 with the double, one RBI, one run scored and one walk. 

When Ramos was selected by the Giants with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, he made a public goal of wanting to be in the majors in three years. He said he needs to stick to his plan and keep working hard to reach his goal.

Bart hopes to be right there, assisting him in any way he can. 

“I’m here to lead him in the right way,” Bart said on his role as a leader to Ramos. “Hopefully if we can make it up to the big-league club one day, that would be awesome.”

[RELATED: Watch Bart hit RBI single in first at-bat of San Jose debut]

As for Bart, he had his cup of coffee and dessert with the big-league club in spring training. He’s saying all the right things before a bite of the bigs turns into a four-course meal. 

“It’s made me more hungry than I can imagine,” Bart said on dreaming of the major leagues. “I know these guys have me in the right position. All I can do is take it one day at a time. 

“If they threw me in there tomorrow, that would be awesome. But that’s not really realistic, so we’re gonna take it one day at a time. Keep coming out here, working hard and being the best teammate I can be.”

The jersey said San Jose, not San Francisco, across the chest. Still, in front of a sellout crowd of 3,018 fans, Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos spent their first night as Giants together, paving the path to a bigger orange and black.

What covering Giants' 2012 World Series sweep of Tigers was like

What covering Giants' 2012 World Series sweep of Tigers was like

Programming note: Watch the re-air of the Giants' 2012 World Series sweep today from 8 a.m. PT to 8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

It was about 4 a.m. when my boss called, and as I stepped into a hallway at the Renaissance Center Marriott, the lobby party was still going. The end of a World Series is a release for the players physically and mentally, but the same holds true for the media and all the behind the scenes staffers who are there every day that extra month. 

You spend a month working long days and nights, eating dinners out of sandwich boxes handed out in the press box -- the good days are the ones when you get there early and snag a chicken pesto -- and planning your travel a day at a time. Earlier in that 2012 postseason, I sat in the lobby restaurant at the Cincinnati Westin and watched the Giants file out and head for the airport. They were on the tarmac when the Cardinals beat the Nationals and they found out they were going home instead of to D.C., and I quickly canceled my flight to the nation's capital and smiled as I realized I didn't have to buy a winter coat the next morning on the way to the airport. 

So when the World Series is finally over, it's a release and a bit of a party, and the Renaissance Center in Detroit was ready for the dozens of reporters who descended upon the lobby after Game 4. It was a nice home for beat writers that week, mostly because it was freezing outside and you didn't have to leave the building to find food. There was a food court in the lobby of the massive building, and you can't ask for much more than that when the temperature outside is in the 30s. I ate a lot of chicken nuggets that week. 

The lobby was rocking that final night, because there's not much to do in downtown Detroit even when it's warm. But I was pulled away when my boss called and asked an urgent question.

"Have you been paying attention to Hurricane Sandy?" he asked.

I hadn't. It was cold in Detroit and wet at times over the previous couple of days, but anyone there was focused on the Giants and the Tigers. I didn't realize how bad Sandy had gotten, and when I think back to that 2012 World Series -- which will air today on NBC Sports Bay Area -- that's what I remember the most. 

Sure, there was Pablo Sandoval's three-homer game and Ryan Theriot's slide into the plate. Barry Zito beat Justin Verlander and Sergio Romo froze Miguel Cabrera, but what I have always remembered most about that week was a mad scramble to get out of town before the airports shut down, and the words a young Buster Posey said earlier that night after the Giants had completed the sweep. 

"It was a big win -- I know that sounds silly," Posey said, his voice getting serious in the middle of a celebration. "But they would have had Verlander tomorrow."

I've always thought about the last part of that quote. On paper, the 2012 World Series was a demolition, but a playoff series can turn on one hit, as the Giants proved that entire month. They won a record six elimination games to reach the World Series, stunning the Reds and then the Cardinals. They ended the postseason with seven straight wins, outscoring the Cardinals and Tigers 36-7, but Posey knew that they couldn't give the Tigers any kind of opening. 

With a win in Game 4, the Tigers could have regrouped, and they would have lined up behind Verlander, who finished second for the Cy Young that year. The Giants also knew the weather was coming, and it would hit hard. The day after Game 4, waves on Lake Michigan hit 20 feet and schools outside of Detroit closed because of power outages. The World Series likely would have been disrupted, and perhaps a loaded Tigers team would have regrouped. 

The Tigers had Verlander and Max Scherzer in their rotation, along with midseason addition Anibal Sanchez and the underrated Doug Fister. Current Giant Drew Smyly had a 3.99 ERA that season but the rotation was so stacked he was sent to the bullpen. The lineup featured Cabrera, the MVP, and Prince Fielder, who hit 30 homers in the regular season. 

That was a really good team, one the Giants couldn't afford to let off the mat. They stunned the Tigers in four games, from Verlander's reaction to Sandoval's homers to Romo's fastball that ended up being the final pitch of 2012. That Giants team is remembered for the comebacks, but they should also be remembered for putting the hammer down when they had to, locking up a sweep. They made sure the Tigers never caught their breath, never got a chance to come back after the weather cleared and let Verlander try to make it 3-2. 

"I'm just glad the whole world got to see what this team is about," Ryan Vogelsong said after Game 4. "Starting with Game 5 of the NLCS, we played our best baseball of the season."

[RELATED: Ranking Posey's best walk-offs]

The Giants held a parade two days later, and because of that 4 a.m. phone call, I was there to cover it. I hung up and switched my flight, then ran to my room to pack and head to the airport. I was on a 6 a.m. flight to Chicago and from there it was smooth sailing. Just about every connecting flight got canceled later that day, and I know some of the other reporters had to drive hours to reach an airport that could get them back to San Francisco. 

Everything could have looked so much different had the Tigers won Game 4, so as you rewatch those games today, remember the trait that Giants team showed on the final day of the season. They refused to give in for weeks, and when they had a chance to put the Tigers away and win a second title, they proved to be ruthless. 

Ranking Buster Posey's best walk-off moments throughout Giants career

Ranking Buster Posey's best walk-off moments throughout Giants career

Programming note: Relive Buster Posey's walk-off single against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, March 28, at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

There haven't been as many big hits in recent years, or even opportunities for them, but for most of his career Buster Posey has been the Giant you want at the plate when you need to get a runner home in the late innings. 

Posey has a .312 career average with runners in scoring position and an OPS of nearly .900. He hits .306 in what Baseball-Reference calls "high leverage" situations, and while the bat has slowed a bit over time, he used to handle elite closers as well as anyone. Posey has five hits in nine career at-bats against Aroldis Chapman and is 8-for-23 against Kenley Jansen. 

Posey has six career walk-off hits and one walk-off walk, and tonight we're showing one of them -- last year's game-winning single against the Los Angeles Dodgers -- at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area. To get you ready, we decided to rank Posey's game-winners:

7. Walk against Toronto Blue Jays' Ryan Tepera (May 11, 2016)

The degree of difficulty here is the lowest, because with one out and the bases loaded, Posey didn't need to do much against a pitcher who already had walked one, hit one and thrown a wild pitch. Tepera walked Posey on four pitches. 

It's not a walk-off hit, but we're including it here for one simple reason: 

6. Single off Chicago Cubs' James Norwood (July 11, 2018)

This one had the potential to be much higher. With two outs in the 13th, Posey hit a ball that had a shot to be the rare right-handed homer to the arcade. It officially went down as just a single after banging off the base of the wall and bringing Brandon Belt home from second. 

A big hit, but there's not enough here to rank it ahead of homers or a game-winner against the Dodgers. The video is a fun reminder, though, that Posey hit behind Andrew McCutchen for a few months.

5. Single off Dodgers' Kenley Jansen (June 11, 2016)

You could go either way with this one. Posey gets bonus points for winning a game off Jansen, who had a 1.82 ERA that season and took just one loss other than this one. He also did it in front of Steve Kerr, who sat near the dugout throughout a game that took exactly four hours. 

But we're ranking this here because you can't ignore that the ball -- while hit hard -- was very nearly an inning-ending double play. That bumps it down the list.

4. Single off Dodgers' Pedro Baez (May 1, 2019)

Posey has three career walk-offs against the Dodgers and we're tempted to move this one up the list and into the top three because it was off of Baez, who costs Giants fans at least an hour of their lives every season with his slow pace. This one also clinched a series win against the Dodgers. 

But when you watch it -- and it airs Saturday on NBC Sports Bay Area -- the play is just as much about Steven Duggar as it is about Posey. It's a hell of a swing to be able to yank a 97 mph fastball on the outer edge, but the ball left the bat at just 85 mph. Chris Taylor made a 95 mph throw to the plate that was on line, but Duggar rounded third perfectly and used his speed to slide in just in time. 

3. Home run off Colorado Rockies' Juan Nicasio (August 27, 2014)

Man, it's hard to beat a walk-off homer in a night game at Oracle Park. This one was soaring, too, so the sellout crowd had plenty of time to rise and appreciate it. This was Posey's 18th homer of 2014, the last season in which he reached 20 homers. 

Posey's second career walk-off came a night after Madison Bumgarner lost a perfect game in the eighth inning and a night before Yusmeiro Petit set the MLB record by retiring a 46th straight batter, a stretch that went back over a month. The win gave Bruce Bochy 1,600 in the big leagues, moving him past Tommy Lasorda. The 2014 Giants were starting to roll. 

"A lot of us know what this team is capable of if we do get into the playoffs," Posey said that night. "This is a fun time of the year."

2. Home run off Dodgers' Ronald Belisario (May 3, 2013)

Bochy had Gregor Blanco warming up heading into the bottom of the ninth inning on this night, and he was ready to send the speedy outfielder in for Posey if the reigning MVP led off the ninth by reaching base. All Blanco ultimately had to do was run to join the crowd at the plate.

Posey's first career walk-off was a memorable one, and it came on a Friday night against the Dodgers in front of a raucous crowd. The homer was Posey's fourth of the season and raised his OPS to .900. A night later, backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz hit a solo shot off Brandon League in the 10th to give the Giants back-to-back walk-offs. The Giants completed the sweep that Sunday to improve to 19-12, but it all fell apart in June and July.

[RELATED: How Dubon is staying ready after missing Opening Day]

1. Home run off Cincinnati Reds' Robert Stephenson (May 12, 2019)

The record books say Posey's third career walk-off blast came on May 12, but it was actually May 13 by the time he touched the plate. The solo shot came at 1:43 in the morning after five hours and 28 minutes of baseball, and despite the fact that he caught all 17 innings, Posey managed to smoke it 431 feet. 

"That's dad strength," he said the next morning, smiling. 

Posey's walk-off was the latest by inning in franchise history, and there was more relief the game finally was over than there was excitement about what he had done:

The ultimate celebration -- both hands spread straight out as he looked to the sky -- was a great one, in large part because it was immediately followed by young Christian Arroyo getting clocked by Jeff Samardzija in the scrum at home plate: