Why Giants top prospects Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos exceeded expectations

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Ali Thanawalla

Why Giants top prospects Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos exceeded expectations

Throughout the Giants' minor league system, a lot of champagne was popped this season. Five team affiliates are headed to the playoffs, and yet, San Francisco's top two prospects weren't a part of the celebrations. 

Catcher Joey Bart and center fielder Heliot Ramos spent the majority of their seasons with the San Jose Giants in Class A Advanced. San Jose claimed a playoff spot in the California League on the last day of the regular season Monday, but the young stars had already moved up to Double-A Richmond. 

And while the Flying Squirrels won seven of their final eight games, they went just 32-40 on the regular season and missed the Eastern League playoffs. There's a much bigger picture than reaching the playoffs in Double-A when it comes to Bart and Ramos, though. 

Both prospects entered the season with sky-high expectations. To the delight of Giants fans and the front office alike, both met or exceeded those expectations. 

Bart, 22, came into the season with a bar set impossibly high to reach. After crushing 13 homers with a .983 OPS in Class A Short Season for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes last season, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft spent nearly all of spring training with the big league club. Down in the desert, it was clear the Giants might have another star catcher in their future. 

In his first big-league camp, Bart hit .350 (7-for-20) with one home run, two doubles and seven RBI over 15 games. He impressed the club so much that he was given the Barney Nugent Award, which is handed out annually to the player who performs the best in his first major league camp.

A number of Giants fans began wondering when they would see Bart in San Francisco. Could it be as soon as this season? What happens to Buster Posey? These questions popped left and right, but the Giants made the wise decisions of lowering expectations and starting Bart and Ramos together in San Jose. 

Bart hit .265 with 12 homers, 10 doubles and a .793 OPS in 57 games with San Jose. He did so while also fracturing his left hand and getting in the squat for nearly 440 innings. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound catcher opened eyes with his defense, too, and was named Best Defensive Catcher by Cal League coaches

When he was promoted to Double-A Richmond in early August, Bart hit below .200 through his first 12 games. Then, he caught fire.

Bart was named the Eastern League Player of the Week to end the regular season. He hit .538 with a homer, four doubles, a triple and six RBI in his final seven games of the regular season. Over 22 games with the Flying Squirrels, Bart hit .316 with four homers, 11 RBI and a .912 OPS. 

Though Bart fared better in Double-A than Ramos, the younger of the two was the Giants' best prospect this season. 

Ramos, who still is a teenager until Sept. 7, experienced a frustratingly down year in 2018. He burst onto the scene shortly after the Giants took him with the No. 19 pick in the 2017 draft, but hit just .245 with a lowly .313 on-base percentage the next year for Single-A Augusta. The 19-year-old outfielder focused on laying off balls in the dirt and seeing pitches deeper while playing Winter Ball, and it showed. 

Ramos raised his on-base percentage 72 points in San Jose, up to .385. He walked 35 times in 124 games last season, and registered just three fewer in 77 games with the Giants. Though his strikeout rate was nearly identical to last season, Ramos consistently worked deep counts from opposing pitchers. 

Before being promoted to Double-A on the same day as Bart, Ramos hit .306 with 13 homers, 18 doubles and an .885 OPS in San Jose. Like Bart, too, Ramos dealt with an injury (knee) which he had to overcome.

Ramos was named the Giants' Team MVP and was recognized by Cal League coaches as well. He took home three different honors: Best Power, Best Defensive Outfielder and Most Exciting Prospect. 

At the time of his promotion to Double-A, Ramos was the youngest player in Flying Squirrels history. Though he hit .242, Ramos did knock another three homers and six doubles in 25 games with Richmond, and finished the year on a six-game hitting streak.

To put the Eastern League in perspective, too, this season was the league's 10th-lowest ERA (3.54) in league history and sixth-lowest since 1990.

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ramos ends breakout 2019 with a bang]

Bart and Ramos will continue to play together as the two are now slated to join the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, which begins Sept. 18. They started the season in San Jose together, went up to Richmond together and now will do so in the desert. 

While the two missed out on the celebrations this season, if the Giants are popping champagne in the coming years, Bart and Ramos likely will be right in the middle of the festivities.

Giants top prospect Joey Bart explains biggest adjustments to Double-A

Giants top prospect Joey Bart explains biggest adjustments to Double-A

Giants top prospect Joey Bart knows baseball is full of ups and downs. Just look at his batting average. 

The catcher had been struggling at the plate since being promoted to Double-A Richmond, batting just .208 through his first 15 games. Everything can change with one big night at the plate, though. 

Bart went 4-for-5 with a double, RBI and two runs scored in the Flying Squirrels' 7-6 win over the Erie SeaWolves on Monday. In just one day's work, his average jumped 51 points to .259. 

"Obviously the arms are better [than High-Class A]," Bart said Tuesday to Richmond's broadcaster Jake Eisenberg. "The ball doesn't fly here like it does back West." 

The power-hitting catcher has three homers in Double-A, but he also has struck out 17 times to five walks. However, he says the biggest difference in the higher level is dealing with his pitching staff, not facing the other team's arms. 

"The hardest adjustment's been getting on page with the pitchers," Bart said. "Not that it hasn't gone well, it's just two weeks isn't a whole lot of time to get to know the staff. That's definitely been the biggest thing, just trying to get everyone on page and trying to figure out what everyone does to ultimately pitch the best."

Bart goes over charts and scouting reports on opposing hitters. Data helps, but there's no comparison to the feel of the game and seeing how the ball moves out of each pitcher's hand. 

"Ultimately it's about competing and hopefully whatever [pitch] I put down, they're with it," Bart said. "If they're not, they'll throw what they want and I'll block it up or do whatever I have to do to get the out." 

This is Bart's first full season in the minor leagues. He played 51 games last year after being taken with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. This season, he's already played 124 games -- catching 61 -- between the San Jose Giants and Richmond. Bart says there's no comparison between college and the grind of the minors, even though he played in the competitive ACC at Georgia Tech. 

Richmond has seven games left in its regular season and won't make the playoffs. For Bart, the season will continue for him after the Flying Squirrels are done. The 22-year-old will play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. 

[RELATED: Rogers debuts just minutes after twin brother earns save]

"There's gonna be a lot of studs out there," Bart said. "Just go out there and show those guys what I'm made of and just have fun and play the game the right way, and I think everything will take care of itself."

Bart has bashed 15 homers between two levels while dealing with injury and the adjustments in jumping up to a league in Double-A that can chew up hitters and spit them out. The AFL will be his next adjustment, but he seems up to the task.

Giants top prospect Joey Bart to play in Arizona Fall League this year

Giants top prospect Joey Bart to play in Arizona Fall League this year

For minor league baseball players, the season comes to an end in early September. But for a handful of the best prospects in the game, it continues just a few weeks later. 

The Arizona Fall League begins September 18 this year, and the Giants' top prospect is scheduled to be there. The league announced Tuesday that Joey Bart will suit up for the Scottsdale Scorpions. 

Talks of Bart playing in the AFL this year became more evident after the catcher missed time with a fractured hand. The Giants would like him to get more at-bats, and he'll do just that against some of the best young talent in the desert. 

Bart already has tackled two levels in the minors this year and the AFL will be another big test for the No. 2 pick from the 2018 MLB Draft. In 57 games with the San Jose Giants, Bart hit .265 with 12 homers, 10 doubles and a .793 OPS before being promoted to Double-A Richmond. 

Through 10 games in Double-A, Bart is batting just .206 in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League. But he did snap an 0-for-11skid Monday and hit his 14th long ball on the year. 

Bart has impressed behind the dish this season and minor league coaches named him the best defensive catcher in the California League while he was in San Jose. The AFL could be the perfect time to experiment with his defense, though. 

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recently told The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly that he wants Bart to add another position to his arsenal besides catcher. The 22-year-old has served as either catcher or DH in his entire minor league career. The same goes for his time at Georgia Tech. 

[RELATED: When will Giants call up red-hot power prospect Davis?]

Could the Giants get Bart some time as a first baseman this fall? What about third base? Bart seems like San Francisco's catcher of the future, but adding versatility to his game will only get him to Oracle Park faster. 

For every Bart Bomb at the plate, keep your eyes on if he's playing anywhere else but behind it.