Despite stark differences in their prospect profiles, San Francisco Giants outfielder Heliot Ramos and Oakland Athletics shortstop Nick Allen have formed a bond as they follow similar paths.
Few people know what it means to be an elite baseball prospect like San Francisco Giants outfielder Heliot Ramos or Oakland Athletics shortstop Nick Allen.
Between tournaments and showcases, most pro baseball players have spent their summers traveling the country since they were 16 years old. Many start even younger.
Of the thousands who participate in prep baseball, only a select handful earn the attention of MLB scouts. Before many of those top-tier high school prospects even turn 18 years old, they are faced with the life-changing decision of whether to attend college or join the professional ranks straight out of high school.
San Diego, California native Nick Allen and Humacao, Puerto Rico native Heliot Ramos both enjoyed that rare opportunity as prep standouts.
From opposite sides of the country, they garnered enough buzz to earn invitations to the prestigious 2016 Under Armour All-America Game. It was the first of many times they would cross paths.
“Heliot and I, every time we see each other it’s a good time,” Allen said in a phone interview with Around the Foghorn.
It wouldn’t come as a shock to anyone close to either player that they’ve become good friends. Both have always received credit for their leadership qualities and both are jovial and outgoing guys who share a contagious love for baseball.
By the end of their senior years in high school, Ramos and Allen were regarded as two of the top prospects in the 2017 MLB Draft.
On Baseball America’s annual pre-draft list of the Top 500 draft prospects, Allen checked in at No. 29 with Ramos right behind him in the No. 30 spot.
The question remained where they would begin their pro careers.
Ramos was first to hear his name called, going No. 19 overall to the San Francisco Giants.
Allen had to wait until the third round before the Oakland Athletics selected him, though he eventually signed for first-round money to keep him away from a commitment to USC.
“It was cool [Heliot] got drafted by the Giants and I got drafted by the A’s, kind of like a crosstown rivalry,” Allen said.
Their careers would continue to intersect in the coming years. Both finished out 2017 in the Arizona Rookie League and both were given aggressive assignments to full-season ball in 2018.
However, the transition was not a smooth one for either player, and their prospect status dipped as a result.
Ramos hit .245/.313/.396 with 11 home runs in 535 plate appearances and a 25.4 percent strikeout rate. Allen batted a punchless .239/.301/.302 in 512 plate appearances with 87 of his 110 hits going for singles.
“I can be blunt. When I watch video of my swing from the beginning of last year, it doesn’t look great,” Allen said.
“It was hard to deal with everything and stay strong,” Ramos said in his own phone interview, while also noting how tough it was to “stay positive” while slumping.
Despite those struggles, both organizations remained confident. After all, it was not just the on-field tools of Ramos and Allen that had caught their attention. They believed in their character as well.
Ramos described it as: “A year of experience [to] learn how the game works,”
Allen agreed, saying: “The everyday style was just different, but it’s something you gradually get used to.”
In the end, they used those struggles as motivation make the necessary adjustments during the offseason and in spring training. The focus for Ramos was refining his plate discipline, while Allen had the daunting task of rebuilding his swing.
“I had to change a lot of things to be more grounded into my legs, to stay back, and to keep my head still,” Allen said.
Both players could have repeated Single-A given their middling production and the adjustments they needed to make. They still would have been young for the level. Instead, both player development staffs showed their confidence with aggressive assignments to High-A.
They have both tackled that challenge head-on and excelled.
After a hot start for the San Jose Giants, Ramos missed some time with a left knee sprain, but he remained focused on the task at hand.
“Same mindset, same plan, same goal,” Ramos said.
He has picked up right where he left off since returning to action and his performance this year has been on par with some of the best prospects in recent memory.
The 19-year-old is hitting .311/.395/.523 with 12 home runs in 64 games, raising his walk rate from 6.5 to 10.5 percent in the process.
Allen has not been quite as explosive for the Stockton Ports, but he too has seen a significant uptick in his production, and he credits his reworked swing.
“[It’s] giving me a better opportunity to hit the pitch I want to hit,” Allen said.
His .292/.363/.434 line has been good for a 124 wRC+ and Melissa Lockard of The Athletic recently wrote on how his progress this season has made him one of the most underrated prospects in baseball.
Three years after they first took the field together in the Under Armour All-America Game, their strong play teamed them up once again, this time on the North team in the California League All-Star Game. They were two of the youngest players selected to the game.
Earlier in the season, after the two squared off on the field, they got together for dinner with some family and friends. One attendee described how fun it was to watch the two budding stars talk about the game.
Allen may soon look to his friend for advice after an awkward slide landed him on the injured list. He’s currently rehabbing in Arizona and hopes to emulate Ramos’ smooth return when he rejoins his teammates in Stockton.
Despite their growing bond, Allen and Ramos remain a starkly contrasted pair.
At 5’8″ and 166 pounds, Allen can easily blend into a crowd. The same can’t be said about the hulking Ramos, whose muscular 6’1″ frame leaves him looking more like an SEC football star than a minor league outfielder.
While they both play up the middle with Allen at shortstop and Ramos in center field, their prospect reports read quite differently as well.
Ramos profiles as a middle-of-the-order run producer and power hitter. Allen might never be more than an average offensive contributor at the next level, but he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in the minor leagues.
Despite their differences, they still try to mirror each other’s games in certain ways.
Ramos mentioned that he tries to emulate Allen’s defensive prowess. Allen called Ramos an “aggressive baseball player” and noted that he tries to “take a little bit of that from him” and apply it to his own game.
Current Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien will be a free agent after next season, and given the team’s budgetary restrictions, he’ll likely be headed elsewhere. The team also just traded fellow shortstop prospect Kevin Merrell to the Kansas City Royals for Homer Bailey, seemingly doubling down on their faith in the remaining crop of middle-infield prospects headlined by Allen.
The San Francisco Giants have seen a nice upturn in production from their outfielders of late, with guys like Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson getting hot at the plate. However, none of them will stand in the way of Heliot Ramos, who is expected to be a key part of the future core alongside fellow prospects Joey Bart and Marco Luciano.
Since they were kids, Heliot Ramos and Nick Allen have been chasing the same dream.
They’ve faced the most talented players their age and have consistently risen to the top by doing what they do best.
While they may excite fans in different ways on the field, they should give fans on both sides of the Bay plenty of reason to believe they’ll one day square off again at the highest level.
Maybe we’ll see them facing off in the MLB All-Star Game one day soon. Or maybe even the World Series.