Giants

What advice does former Notre Dame star Jeff Samardzija have for Kyler Murray?

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USATSI

What advice does former Notre Dame star Jeff Samardzija have for Kyler Murray?

SAN FRANCISCO — Throughout the offseason, Jeff Samardzija visited Oracle Park three times a week for workouts and rehab, and twice a week he would go through that grueling work at a local rehab facility. In quiet moments, Samardzija occasionally followed along with a story that has dominated the conversation in two sports, and seemed very familiar. 

More than a decade ago, Jeff Samardzija was in Kyler Murray's shoes. What would he tell the A’s first-round pick, who also may go in the first round of the NFL Draft after winning the Heisman Trophy?

“He should stick to his heart,” Samardzija said Friday. “Looking back on my situation, the whole reason I’m where I’m at now is because I picked the sport that I love, through and through, day in and day out. I was always happy to be going to baseball practice and a game, doubleheaders on travel teams and all that. There was never that ‘shrug the shoulders’ feeling that you had in football. That’s a big part of it. 

“For me, I kind of figured that would carry me into a longer career than doing something as a job. If you love to do it, it’s a little easier to go in early and stay late than if you’re just trying to get through it. He needs to make sure he’s making decisions for the right reason and that’s what you love to do it.”

The general sense from recent reports seems to be that Murray is more in love with football, and on Thursday it was reported that he will attend the NFL Scouting Combine. Samardzija never did, despite the fact that he was much more successful at Notre Dame on the gridiron. He had more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of his final two seasons at Notre Dame, totaling 27 touchdowns and twice becoming a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top receiver. 

Samardzija was projected in the first round of the 2007 draft, but in January of that year, he signed a five-year big league deal with the Cubs for a signing bonus of $10.5 million. That’s the type of deal that’s no longer available to top draft picks. Murray got $5 million from the A’s but would exceed that as a first-rounder in the NFL.  

“He doesn’t necessarily need to choose money right now, but again, with the way our (baseball) draft is now, it’s hard to turn down (more money) from football,” Samardzija said. “It was flip-flopped when I was drafted. I was turning down money (if I went) to play football.”

[RELATED: Kyler Murray to participate in NFL Scouting Combine]

Samardzija has been open over the years about the fact he feels he absolutely made the right decision.

He has his health, and he’s still playing at a time when the vast majority of his football class — guys like Jamarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson, and Patrick Willis — has long since retired. But he doesn’t think Murray should worry about longevity as he chooses between baseball and football. 

“If you’re as good as they say you are, you’re going to have a long career either way,” he said.

Giants catchers have blast with familiar drill that includes new twist

Giants catchers have blast with familiar drill that includes new twist

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants have tried to make their workouts shorter and more efficient, allowing players a little extra time every day to hang out with their families or hit the golf course. But for one group, the day can still be a hell of a grind.

Nobody works harder in camp than the catchers, who report on Day 1 with pitchers and spend hours catching bullpens between their own drills. When they're done with all the heavy lifting, they get their turn to hit in the cage, using up whatever energy the early afternoon sun hasn't zapped away. 

But on Wednesday, the six catchers in Giants camp got a few minutes to laugh.

New bullpen coach Craig Albernaz led a drill that on the surface looked very familiar. Every spring, catchers work on tracking and gloving pop-ups shot into the bright sky by a pitching machine. But Albernaz mixed it up this time, putting the catchers into teams of two and making them share one glove as they chased pop-ups:

"Man, it was a blast," non-roster invitee Chad Tromp said.

Tromp, who came over from the Reds, said he had never done the drill that way before. Neither had Rob Brantly, a veteran who has been in the big leagues with three organizations since debuting in 2012. Brantly said it was a lot of fun, but pointed out that there was a method to the madness.

"It's just a fun drill that you do but you build a relationship with the other guy," he said. "You immediately start strategizing."

Brantly was paired with fellow non-roster invitee Tyler Heineman, with Tromp joining 20-year-old Ricardo Genoves and Buster Posey teaming up with Joey Bart. They had a very interested observer as the drill got more intense. Gabe Kapler walked over to watch and said he appreciated the drill because guys were competing and communicating. 

[RELATED: Giants ahead of others in increasing pay for minor leaguers]

Those are two themes of camp, and they were on full display as catchers threw a glove back and forth. Tromp and Genoves caught the most pop-ups and won the mini-competition, which was a welcomed break from monotony for the group and ramped up the intensity on a hot day in Scottsdale. 

"There's a lot of pressure," Tromp said, smiling. "You have a second guy and you have to tell them where to go and where to look. It's something we don't usually do and it puts you in a panicked situation pretty quickly." 

Heliot Ramos isn't in big league camp, but he still may get some time with Giants

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Ali Thanawalla

Heliot Ramos isn't in big league camp, but he still may get some time with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When the Giants announced their first round of non-roster invitees last month, there weren't any hugely surprising names on the list. The biggest questions might have been about a couple of top prospects who would not be in camp.

Joey Bart and Sean Hjelle were among those invited, but the Giants did not include Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop, who generally get ranked with Bart and teenager Marco Luciano in the top four on prospect lists

Ramos (2017) and Bishop (2019) are former first-round draft picks, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the organization doesn't have a blanket policy of inviting first-round picks to camp the next year. Instead, as the Giants put together a spring roster, they worried more about having coverage.

They have plenty of outfielders in camp fighting for spare at-bats and reps, but you always need six catchers early on and that can be hard to find. That's one reason Bart was in camp last year a few months after his own draft and Ricardo Genoves, a 20-year-old catcher who hasn't played above Low-A ball Augusta was added as a non-roster invitee this time when Aramis Garcia got hurt.

"It's different with catchers, fairly or not," Zaidi said. "You need six guys in camp and that creates the opportunity a little earlier. For Joey, it was also about giving him a camp with (Bruce Bochy) and with Boch's catching history. I think there are extenuating circumstances."

Ramos spent nearly all of 2019 with Bart. They started the year together in San Jose and got promoted to Double-A Richmond at the same time before playing together in the Arizona Fall League. While Ramos will be in minor league camp this spring, Zaidi said the Giants might try to bring him over for some Cactus League games, and he said the 20-year-old center fielder "absolutely" will have an opportunity to reach the big leagues this year. 

"We had guys last year work their way through two or three levels of the minors leagues so it's certainly something that he could do," Zaidi said. "I think both with him and Joey, just the injuries kind of slowed them down a little bit and maybe backed up their timetable for when they could potentially get to the big leagues this year, but we've talked about promoting guys aggressively when they kind of perform up to levels that warrant a promotion, and that'll be the case for both those guys."

Ramos dealt with a knee injury early last year but still put up a .306/.385/.500 slash line in San Jose. He had a .242/.321/.421 line in the much tougher Eastern League. Overall, Ramos hit 16 homers in his second full professional season and showed the kind of improved plate discipline the new regime has demanded of all prospects. 

[RELATED: Giants to increase minor league pay]

The Giants should have plenty of opportunities later in March to bring Ramos over as a bench option in Cactus League games, and there's one player in particular who will be fired up to see him. Bart said he has formed a special bond with Ramos.

"He's really good, really good. I wish he was here but I know he'll be around," Bart said. "That kid is very special. I wouldn't say that about a lot of guys. If I see a guy that's really good it really opens my eyes. I don't say that about a lot of guys. He's strong, he hits the ball so far and so hard and he really doesn't even know what he's doing.

"The kid is just so strong and he's getting to be a lot smarter of a player. He's got great instincts, and that's something you can't teach."