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.
😨😨 Heliot Ramos crushes one to center field but is ROBBED by an unreal diving catch at the warning track for a RBI sac fly pic.twitter.com/JxILVhBHmU— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 5, 2019
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.”
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.