Picking out one of the top San Francisco Giants’ prospects will not be difficult when the Double-A Flying Squirrels open their season Tuesday night against Hartford (Colorado Rockies) at The Diamond.
Sean Hjelle — say “jelly” — is 6-foot-11.
The right-hander out of the University of Kentucky made a stop in Richmond late during the 2019 season, the last time the Flying Squirrels played prior to the pandemic that canceled the 2020 season. So did outfielder Heliot Ramos, a Puerto Rican who was a first-round draft choice of the Giants in 2017 (No. 19 overall).
If you’re looking for the two Flying Squirrels who appear destined for the big leagues, Hjelle and Ramos seem excellent candidates.
Hjelle’s velocity sits between 93 and 95 mph, and batters who faced him in Richmond late during the 2019 season noted the “heavy ball” he throws. Translation: Hjelle’s heater commonly carries some late sinking action.
Hjelle, who turns 24 on May 7, is also known for his strike-throwing. In 165 minor league innings, he’s struck out 161 and walked 41. And, yes, he does have basketball experience. He played through high school in Fridley, Minn., and was recruited by college hoops coaches.
Hjelle committed to baseball. Out of Kentucky, the Giants drafted him in the second round (2018). There have been 7-footers who pitched in the minors. The tallest player in major league history is 6-11 Jon Rauch, a right-hander who pitched in the big leagues from 2004 to 2013.
Ramos, 21, impressed in Giants’ spring training. In 21 games, he batted .410 (16-39), with three doubles and three homers. During his three weeks with the Flying Squirrels in August and September of 2019, Ramos, whose first name is pronounced “Elliot,” batted .242 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 25 games.
The Richmond franchise’s CEO, Todd Parnell, advised fans attending Tuesday’s sold-out opener and the remaining games of the first homestand to check the team’s website (squirrelsbaseball.com) for ballpark guidelines.
“There are always last-minute things to do, no matter how long you have, and we’ll have had 610 days. That’s a long time,” Parnell said Sunday evening. “I think we all want to get the first game and the first homestand done so we can make sure that the COVID protocols that are in place are working. We’re very, very serious about that, about providing a safe environment.”
A sold-out crowd to start the season is 2,943, or 30% capacity, per state policy. Tickets remain for the rest of the opening homestand, which continues against Hartford through Sunday.
Pitchers: Luis Amaya, Tristan Beck, Matthew Frisbee, Gerson Garabito, Norwith Gudino, Sean Hjelle, Sam Long, Joey Marciano, Mac Marshall, Frank Rubio, Patrick Ruotolo, Matt Seelinger, Trenton Toplikar, Raffi Vizcaino, Ronnie Williams
Catchers: Andres Angulo, Bryan Torres
Infielders: Ryan Howard, Peter Maris, Shane Matheny, Kyle Mottice, David Villar
Outfielders: Sandro Fabian, Vince Fernandez, Jacob Heyward, Heliot Ramos, Andy Sugilio, Francisco Tostado