By Nick Zeller-Singh
Thousands of baseball players across the nation have one thing in mind: get to the MLB.
“I can’t stop thinking about it, that’s my dream,” San Francisco Giants’ prospect Heliot Ramos said this week. “That’s what I want to do.”
Although the chances are less than one in five, there are six Giants prospects on the verge of reaching their dream. The Giants’ number one prospect, 19-year-old Marco Luciano, is the furthest away from reaching the big leagues. However, the highly-rated Dominican expects to be a future MLB All-Star.
After one week of Spring Training, Luciano dominated defensively. Yet his offense has struggled early. In his eight at-bats, Luciano earned one hit and one walk. The six other at-bats ended with strikeouts, including a count that began 3-0.
Although Luciano struggles in Scottsdale, Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler reminds fans he is still developing.
“This is the right time to remind ourselves we have a young developing prospect in Marco, who’s experiencing a lot of firsts right now and part of that is dealing with some failure,” Kapler said. “We’re very confident that we are going to get a lot of improvements, and I don’t think he’s looked overmatched at all.”
Kapler saw improvements in Luciano’s first start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the game, Luciano showed patience, great attack while batting, and defensive skills at shortstop.
Even though Luciano is the Giants’ top prospect, the team has another international prospect. Ramos, a 21-year-old Puerto Rican, ranks as the Giants’ third-best prospect and the 83rd best prospect in the minors, according to Baseball America.
According to Ramos, he traveled to Scottsdale to play baseball, and get his rhythm back. After one week of games, he calmed down in the box and earned a batting average of .417. In his 12 at-bats, the Puerto Rican prospect picked up five hits, including two home runs against the Cincinnati Reds.
After the game, Kapler said, “[Ramos] drive and determination allow him to perform like he did. Really glad that Ramos is hungry and we’re excited about his production.”
Defensively, Ramos looks to control the outfield.
“I know I can play all three, but personally I want to play center field,” Ramos said. “I want to stay in center field and do whatever it takes to stay there.”
Currently, Ramos nearly owns a perfect fielding percentage. He has shown his defensive prominence in Spring too, gathering a handful of putouts and showing off his arm with throws to the bases.
Looking behind the plate, the Giants have two catchers looking to catch the limelight in the 2021 season. The Giants’ seventh-ranked prospect Patrick Bailey and second-ranked Joey Bart both showed their worth to the team within their limited reps.
Bailey struggled at the plate early. In his four games, Bailey recorded one hit and a walk.
Defensively, the 21-year-old North Carolina native caught seven innings. In his appearances behind the plate, Bailey picked up an assist and 11 putouts. Plus, he has only allowed one passed ball after dealing with many new faces on the mound.
Bart, on the other hand, noticed his goals were not to be the best player but to improve his style.
“You often think that you have to be as good or better than this guy but that’s not how it goes,” Bart said. “I just got to be myself and work on my game plan every day, and once you get in that game and get in that setting, it’s all about competing and turning the lights on.”
Bart turned the lights on early, hitting five for eight, including a home run. Besides connecting on offense, Kapler realized his presence defensively.
“I’ve seen the body language in the bullpen improve to the point that he’s been really encouraging at the right times with our pitchers,” Kapler said. “[He’s] been giving them high-quality feedback after bullpen sessions.”
The encouragement between him and the pitchers led to eight innings with 11 putouts. He did not allow one ball to pass his frame too.
The sixth-ranked prospect, Hunter Bishop, stands toe-to-toe with the rest of his prospect peers. The 22-year-old California native started Spring Training slowly, picking up one hit and one walk in seven at-bats.
Although he started slow, Bishop’s expectations are placed high. The Giants’ organization expects Bishop to play a huge part in returning the Giants to the playoffs. Despite early batting struggles, Bishop has shown glimpses of power in 2020 and batting practice.
Sean Hjelle rounds out the top of the Giants’ prospects. Although the 6’11” pitcher has not made his 2021 debut, Hjelle’s praise runs around the Giants’ organization. Throughout these first few weeks, Bart ran across Hjelle in multiple bullpen sessions.
“I’m really high on him,” Bart said. “He’s a competitor, and when he has the ball in his hand, he’s almost mad. I hope he gets a good look for this Spring because he can really help us out. There’s not a lot of guys that are that tall that can throw the ball like that.”
In his live batting practice sessions, batters struggled to line up with his release and timing. Nearly every batter fell into a defensive swing against Hjelle. Plus, his location threw off batters timing and readiness for pitches. Bart and his teammates are not the only ones who set high hopes for the 23-year-old.
“I’ve liked the command in the bullpen,” Kapler said. “He’s continued to have poise and presence, not just because of just his stature, but the way his body moves.”
After one week, the Giants’ prospects showed glimpses of a top-10 farm program. Although these six prospects do not have the green light to the big leagues yet, they are getting their feet wet in the big leagues.
“It’s great to see some of the younger guys coming up and getting their feet wet,” Bart said. “It’s a big deal, so I’m excited for those guys and excited for them to be treated like a big leaguer and get acclimated.”