A Developmental Blueprint for Heliot Ramos’ Path to the Big Leagues

When the Giants drafted 17-year old Heliot Ramos with their 1st round pick in last month’s draft, I doubt even they could have predicted how well the youngster would transition to his new life in professional baseball.

When I was drafted back in 2004 as a 22-year old with 4 years of college baseball under my belt, even I had difficulty adapting to the day-to-day of professional baseball. The game is faster, the competition is better, the coaching is far-more advanced and precise, and each decision you make both on and off the field is put under a microscope. Every ounce of the organization’s energy is put into player development towards a timeline to the Big Leagues, and the process to staying on schedule takes a toll on players both mentally and physically.

The fact that the 17-year-old appears to have hit the ground running makes what he’s accomplished during a transition-period that much more impressive.

Ramos’ spot in the Arizona Rookie League emphasizes the Giants desire to be hands on all-day, every-day. A typical day for Ramos (at least how it used to operate) likely starts out when he arrives at the spring training facility in Scottsdale around 7AM for breakfast (or earlier if he has to get treatment for an injury or precaution). By 8AM, he’ll start getting ready for an 8:30 “early-work” session, where he’ll work either 1 on 1 or in small groups with a specific instructor whose specialty is a fundamental such as base-running, outfield defense, or hitting. This session lasts for about 30 minutes, and by 9AM, the rest of the team comes out to stretch and prepare for the morning practice. These practices typically incorporate all spring training fields where players rotate through different facets of the game including bunting, batting practice, baserunning (home to 1st, 1st to 3rd, 2nd to home, leads and steal breaks, etc), defense (positional drills, 1st and 3rd defense, bunt defense, pop-up priorities, cut-offs and relays, etc), and conditioning (to name a few). After about 2.5 – 3 hours, the players break for lunch to escape the heat and refuel.

Players will then begin to roll back into the complex around 3PM for a 7PM game so they can get stretched out, take pre-game batting practice, pre-game infield/outfield, and then finally, the game. By the time the game finishes, players eat and get back to their hotels, it’s about midnight where they’ll have a quick turnaround to do it all again the next day. This is the life of a minor leaguer, certainly one that not everyone is cut out for.

Needless to say, the transition from whatever life Ramos was leading prior to being drafted to the life he leads now is drastic. Yet if his performance through the first couple weeks of the season is any indication, this kid has matured well beyond his years.

Without being able to watch Ramos daily, it’s difficult to get a read on his progress and development. A couple of days ago, a Twitter video surfaced of Ramos hitting his first professional homerun, a ball that was said to have travelled over 430’. As a division 1 hitting coach for 8 seasons and someone who is obsessive over swing development through video analysis, this video provided a perfect opportunity to gauge Ramos now versus where he needs to get to in order to become an impact bat at the Big-League level over 162 games (plus the playoffs).

The more Ramos’ name becomes mainstream, the more comparisons to Yoenis Cespedes he receives. In fact, members of the Giants front office are said to have referred to Ramos as “Baby Cespedes.” With this in mind, who better to compare his swing to than Cespedes himself.

When comparing the two, it’s first important to understand that the reason for comparison isn’t to criticize Ramos’ flaws, instead it provides insight to the areas of development needed for Ramos to maximize his unique potential. And without having seen Ramos live, the video alone exposes some swing inefficiencies that I’m sure will be areas of improvement that the Giants minor league instructors will target over the remaining months of the season.

The first phase of the swing that exposes a flaw occurs in what we refer to as “the load” or movement back towards the catcher which allows the hitter to generate momentum forward and through the ball. The important things to notice here with Ramos (left) and Cespedes (right) are…

1. Ramos is much narrower with his base, forcing the majority of his weight to be placed on his back foot. Cespedes, on the other hand, has a much-more athletic base with a near 50/50 weight distribution. This provides better balance and therefore, a stronger/more explosive hitting position.

2. Due to the drastic load from Ramos, his hands have extended beyond his backfoot, forcing a disconnect between his upper and lower body. The minute Ramos’ hands extend outside his back foot, he adds length to the swing which forces the bigger muscles (shoulders) to compensate and take over the swing. Added length to a swing causes immediate problems the harder pitchers throw and more accurate they become with their location.

3. Ramos’ drastic negative movement and unathletic base have established an uphill plane to the swing as evidenced by his hip-level. Cespedes, on the other hand, has maintained an even hip-level, providing more balance and allowing for a flatter bat path through the hitting zone.

The 2nd swing phase we look at is the “toe-touch” where the stride foot comes into contact with the ground. This phase in the swing is important because it establishes the momentum forward towards the ball that will ultimately be used to generate bat speed through the hitting zone.

1. Due to the uphill nature created by the load, Ramos is forced to maintain that through his stride, whereas Cespedes is able to maintain his completely level foundation.

2. Cespedes’ hands are perfectly in-line with his back foot, suggesting that the optimum amount of torque and energy is being created by the separation of his hands from his stride foot (think of a rubber band stretching). Ramos, on the other hand, still had his hands outside of his back foot, adding significantly more length to the swing.

The third phase of the swing is the “heel plant” which serves as the catapult from the momentum created by the stride transferring to the hands and bat to explode through the ball.

1. The main thing to note here aside from weight distribution (50/50 athletic base for Cespedes, 60/40 uphill base for Ramos) is the leg drive. Because Cespedes has remained athletic and connected with his upper and lower half, his back leg is beginning to fire against his front foot, which is pushing back against his forward momentum (creating the catapult effect). Ramos, on the other, has no leg drive as evidenced by his back knee showing no movement into his front knee. I added a photo of Buster Posey to again show the difference in back-leg drive.

As a result of the late leg drive, Ramos is unable to maximize his power through the ball, as seen in the next photo. While it’s easier to capture on the video, Ramos never fully transfers his weight through his back foot as seen by his weight sitting on the inside part of his big toe. Cespedes, on the other hand, is up on his tip toe, illustrating a full back-leg drive against a stiff front leg.

The most amazing part about this video is that Ramos still hit this ball over 430’, an incredible result given the lack of his lower half in the swing. As a hitting coach, it’s scary to think about the damage this kid will be able to do when he irons out some fundamental phases of the swing. Leading up into the draft, the consensus on Ramos was that he was raw (of course – he’s 17!), but displayed unique power potential and athleticism. This video mirrors that assessment.

There’s nothing about the mechanical adjustments Ramos needs to make that are unusual or difficult to fix – they just take time and repetition. And luckily for him (and Giants fans), there is no place with more opportunity for time and repetition than the Arizona Rookie League.

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