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Giants top picks Ramos, Gonzalez hope to stay on fast track together


Giants top picks Ramos, Gonzalez hope to stay on fast track together

SCOTTSDALE — When Heliot Ramos was introduced at AT&T Park last summer, he said he hoped to be back and in the lineup in three years. After an eye-opening professional debut, Ramos hasn’t changed his plans at all. If anything, they have gotten grander. He now hopes second-round pick and close friend Jacob Gonzalez is right there with him.

“Two or three years,” Ramos said Thursday, smiling, when asked about his big league plans. 

“As soon as possible,” Gonzalez added. “We’re trying to get up there as soon as possible. But we’re going to enjoy the ride.”

That ride started on the fast track. Ramos is only 18 and Gonzalez is 19, so team officials are realistic about those lofty goals, even as they happily cheer them on. The Giants will let the minor league process do what it does, but the early returns were extremly positive. 

Ramos, a center fielder, and Gonzalez, a third baseman, debuted together in the Arizona Rookie League and took turns tearing the cover off the ball. Ramos had six homers, six triples and 11 doubles in 138 at-bats before a concussion ended his season. Along with his 1.049 OPS, he stole 10 bases in 12 attempts. 

“His power is unbelievable,” Gonzalez said on this week’s Giants Insider Podcast. “I think that I can hit the ball out and then I come out here the first day and he’s hitting balls 50 feet over the fence to all parts of the field. You’re like, ‘oh my goodness, who is this? He’s 17?’”

Gonzalez, the son of former Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez, batted .339 in his first taste of professional ball and posted a .418 on-base percentage. He had 15 doubles, and scouts who saw him complimented his advanced approach at the plate. High school power prospects tend to swing-and-miss a lot early, but Gonzalez had 23 strikeouts to 16 walks in 46 games.

“When I see Jacob I see his approach,” Ramos said. “I get confidence because I know when I get on base he’s going to (drive me in).”

The Giants have yet to say where the two will start the season, but they hope to make the journey together. Ramos, a native of Puerto Rico, has become a regular at the Gonzalez house in the Phoenix area, playing whiffle ball and dominos and hanging out by the pool. Gonzalez said he tries to bring Spanish-speaking players over since his father is fluent and can help with the comfort level. When the two reported to minor league camp recently, Gonzalez posted a photo with Ramos with the caption “First Spring training with my brother is Finally Here.” Ramos responded with “Always together.”

“I feel like I’m at home (with them),” Ramos said.

Ramos, Gonzalez and the rest of the minor leaguers will begin playing games in a week, and manager Bruce Bochy has already said that Ramos may make a cameo in big league camp at some point this spring. Until then, you can get to know them better on this week’s podcast. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here.

Sacramento native Rhys Hoskins reaches Home Run Derby semis


Sacramento native Rhys Hoskins reaches Home Run Derby semis

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper thrilled the home crowd and surely made his father proud, winning the All-Star Home Run Derby on Monday night with an exceptional display of power that carried him past Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs 19-18.

Harper hit the contest-winning blast in extra time, the reward for hitting two homers at least 440 feet during the 4 minutes of regulation. After he connected with the game winner, the Washington Nationals slugger threw his bat in the air and pointed both index fingers toward the sky as a shower of streamers rained upon the crowd of 43,698.

The six-time All-Star arranged to have his dad, Ron, pitch to him in the annual contest on the eve of the All-Star Game. Harper responded with a performance that drew the loudest cheers of the night at Nationals Park.

It’s been a trying season for Harper, who’s hitting only .214 for the disappointing Nationals. He won a contest that many sluggers avoid, fearful it might wear them out and throw them off.

Harper can only hope this helps him get back into the swing.

The 2015 NL MVP beat Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Max Muncy of the Dodgers before trumping the fifth-seeded Schwarber, who put the pressure on with a solid outing before Harper stepped to the plate.

Wearing a headband that resembled the District of Columbia flag and displaying a right sleeve with stars and stripes, Harper trailed 18-9 with 1:20 left before rallying. He homered on nine of his last 10 swings before entering extra time.

Hours before the session, Harper spoke excitedly about having his dad pitch to him in the contest. The 25-year-old said his father “worked his tail off every single day to provide for me and my family” and “now being able to have him throw to me in a big league ballpark is the cherry on top.”

Harper advanced to the final with an astonishing spree of long-ball hitting. He trailed Max Muncy of the Dodgers 12-4 with 2:20 left, then peeled off six homers in 47 seconds before calling a timeout.

Harper returned to hit three more home runs in 22 seconds, the last of them inside the right-field foul pole.

The semifinal matchup between Schwarber and Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins was a thriller. After stunning top-seed Jesus Aguilar of Milwaukee in the opening round, the eighth-seeded Hoskins ripped 20 long balls to put the pressure on Schwarber.

Using a late surge, Schwarber pulled one ball after another over the right field wall to squeeze out a 21-20 victory — by far the highest-scoring matchup of the night.

The fans dutifully cheered most home runs during the first round, but they saved their loudest cheers for Harper, the last player to step to the plate.

After Freeman hit 12 home runs over the 4-minute span, Harper unleashed six shots of at least 440 feet and secured the victory with a drive to center long before the clock expired. As the ball cleared the wall, the left-handed hitting Harper walked out of the batter’s box and thrust both arms in the air.

Freeman was the oldest player in the field at 28, and the first Braves participant since Andruw Jones in 2005.

Milwaukee’s Aguilar, the NL home run leader at the break, was eliminated in the opening round by Hoskins 17-12.

Aguilar hit too many balls to straightaway center, where the wall stands over 400 feet from the plate. Hoskins pumped most of his drives into the left-field seats, where it’s 336 feet down the line.

The most thrilling first-round match featured a near buzzer-beater by Houston’s Alex Bregman, who fell to Schwarber 16-15. The difference was the pair of homers that Schwarber hit during 30 seconds of extra time, the reward for hitting two long balls of at least 440 feet.

Bregman — the lone AL representative — appeared defeated with a minute left, but he mounted a late surge and lost when his final swing produced a drive that landed at the base of the center-field wall.

Muncy advanced by defeating No. 6 seed Javier Baez of the Cubs, 16-15. Baez hit the longest shot of the Derby, a 479-footer.

Aaron Rodgers hits fan jumping off a boat in Tahoe in stride with perfect throw


Aaron Rodgers hits fan jumping off a boat in Tahoe in stride with perfect throw

Green Bay Packers quarterback (and former Cal Golden Bear) Aaron Rodgers is known for his downfield accuracy. 

Rodgers has three successful Hail Marys to his name. The first, on Dec. 3, 2015 against the Detroit Lions, kept his team's playoff hopes alive. Another, on Jan. 16, 2016 against the Arizona Cardinals, sent the Divisional game to overtime, and a third came en route to a Wild Card game win against the New York Giants on Jan. 8, 2007. 

At the American Century Championship Celebrity Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe on Friday, Rodgers added another notch to his belt.

His latest effort won't be confused with the other three, but it's not like any of those receivers landed in a body of water, either. 

The real question? Whether or not that's a catch under the NFL's new rules.