Giants

Giants hero Travis Ishikawa joins overhaul of minor league coaching staffs

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USATSI

Giants hero Travis Ishikawa joins overhaul of minor league coaching staffs

ORLANDO — At the winter meetings this week, David Bell spoke of what an impact his one year in San Francisco had on his playing career and life. The Giants are hoping their new Vice President of Player Personnel has a similarly long-lasting impact on their minor league system. 

Bell, hired earlier this offseason, has led a reboot of the minor league staffs and protocols, and on Friday the Giants announced some of the results. 

Several familiar names returned to join minor league coaching staffs, most notably Travis Ishikawa, the 2014 postseason hero who will now serve as hitting coach for an Arizona Rookie League team. On a larger scale, the Giants have added a fourth coach at every level, a second rookie team, changed their medical staff for the minor leagues, upgraded their facility in the Dominican Republic and put more of an emphasis on analytics and modern ways to take care of players. 

“We’re basically completing a pretty significant rebuild of our system,” general manager Bobby Evans said earlier this week. 

Bell, the former bench coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, was put in charge. Evans said the focus was on giving players the best possible chance to succeed, noting that they now enter professional ball in an age when many prospects have their own mental coaches and come from college programs with state of the art facilities. The Giants built a dynasty on player development, but they have fallen behind in recent years and failed to adequately restock the big league club. This will take time, team officials admit, but they feel the results will be there. 

“This is about our farm system in 2020 and beyond,” Evans said. “I really want to see David set up an environment and culture in our minor league system that is consistent with who we are as an organization and who David is as a baseball man.”

In addition to Bell, former Padres hitting coach Alan Zinter joins the organization as assistant director of player development in charge of offense. Matt Buschmann, a former Diamondbacks pitcher, has the same role and is in charge of “run prevention.” After two years as Angels hitting coach, Dave Hansen will be the minor league hitting coordinator. Julio Rangel, a former Indians pitching coordinator, will have the same role for the Giants. Some already in the organization were given new roles, including Double-A manager Kyle Haines (now assistant director of player development, instruction) and Geoff Head, who will leave his clubhouse position to oversee the medical system in the minor leagues. 

Here are the new full-season coaching staffs:

Triple-A Sacramento: Dave Brundage (manager), Steve Kline (pitching), Damon Minor (hitting), Nestor Rojas (fundamentals), David Getsoff (trainer), Andy King (strength and conditioning), Travis Higgs (bullpen catcher).

Double-A Richmond: Willie Harris (manager), Glenn Dishman (pitching), Francisco Morales (hitting), Hiro Sato (trainer), Jon Medici (strength and conditioning), Eliezer Zambrano (bullpen catcher).

High-A San Jose: Lipso Nava (manager), Matt Yourkin (pitching), Wilfredo Romero (hitting), Gary Davenport (fundamentals), Ryo Watanabe (trainer), Mark Spadavecchia (strength and conditioning), CJ Picerni (bullpen catcher). 

Low-A Augusta: Jolbert Cabrera (manager), Clayton Rapada (pitching), Thomas Neal (hitting), Ydwin Villegas (fundamentals), Vito Maffei (trainer), Jesse White (strength and conditioning), Michael Johnson (bullpen catcher). 

Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater

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AP

Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater

The Sacramento River Cats are filled with outfield talent. Finding ways to send them to San Francisco is the problem. Mac Williamson is on his way up after hitting .487 with six home runs in 11 games, but going into Friday's game, the Giants are stilling figuring out how to activate him on the roster.

While Williamson's hot start has deservedly grabbed headlines, another outfield option who showed what he can do at the big league level last year, is also peppering the ball all over the yard in Sacramento. 

Austin Slater has only played in eight of the River Cats' 14 games, but has been a force so far, going hitless in just one game. After going 2-for-4 with a double, triple, and two RBI on Thursday, Slater is now batting .433 with a 1.300 OPS. In his eight games played, Slater has 13 hits -- seven of those are doubles and two are triples. 

What Slater brings to the table that other options don't as much as himself, is versatility. Slater has played all three outfield positions in the short going this year and is adding another glove to his repetoire. 

The 25-year-old was a top prospect in high school as a shortstop. He even played seven games at shortstop for the San Jose Giants in 2015 and 96 games at second base between San Jose and the Richmond Flying Squirrels the same year. So far, he is yet to play first base. 

All of the Giants' outfielders in the bigs are simply one dimensional. That's where Slater separates himself. The Giants are an aging team full of veterans. They badly need athleticism and versatility, and Slater can do exactly that for them all while bringing a consistent bat. 

If the Giants could, they would get one of those memory-erasers from Men in Black and wipe away last season. One of the memeories they would keep is Slater's 34 games. Before missing significant time due to a hip injury in July and then re-injurying himself in September, which required sports hernia surgery, Slater slashed .282/.339/.402 with three home runs in his first taste of the majors. 

Bruce Bochy hopes that Mac Williamson's power can give the Giants a needed shot in the arm. There's no denying the team could use Slater's skillset too. The question of when and how that will happen though, will not be easy to answer for Bochy or anybody else. 

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

PHOENIX — After his team was held to fewer than two runs for the 10th time this season, manager Bruce Bochy said Mac Williamson will be in Anaheim on Friday as part of the taxi squad. The Giants need the outfielder to be more of a tow truck. 

This is a lineup that has not gotten in gear in any way, but a red-hot reinforcement is on the way. Williamson was hitting .487 with six homers in 11 games in Triple-A, and while Bochy couldn’t say he’ll be active and in left field against the Angels, it was not hard to read between the lines. Hunter Pence said the thumb he sprained in the home opener continues to give him problems and needs a few days of rest. It seems likely that Williamson will officially be called up Friday, with Pence going on the disabled list. 

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Bochy said. “Mostly he’s coming up because he’s swinging the bat well. We’re hoping he’ll be a shot in the arm and provide some production, and we need some help in that area.”

The futility has the Giants six games out of first after just three weeks of action. The culprit is clear. Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton and Ty Blach combined to give up three runs over 20 innings in a tough ballpark, but the Giants still dropped two of three. 

They need more than just one offensive fix, but Williamson represents a start. The 27-year-old has never stuck in the majors, but he rebuilt his swing in the offseason while working with Doug Latta, a private instructor in the Los Angeles area who helped Justin Turner became a star. Williamson’s swing has many of the same markers as Turner’s, and he had a huge spring as he continued to work on adjustments. Williamson lowered his hands and added a higher leg kick in hopes of keeping his bat in the zone longer and being shorter and more direct to the ball. 

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” he said this spring. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

Williamson knew there was not a spot for him on the opening day roster, but hoped to make an impact sooner than later. His torrid start, plus the struggles at the big league level, have made this a daily question. 

“He showed this spring with the adjustments he made that he’s primed,” Bochy said. “He went out and did what we were hoping.”

The key for the Giants now will be to show more faith than they have in the past. Williamson is a .226 hitter in the big leagues, but his 212 at-bats have been scattered across three seasons and plenty of call-ups. It seems he is always one 0 for 3 night away from a demotion, but the Giants would be well served to let him work through any kinks this time. 

The incumbent in left field, Pence, is batting .172. His backups — Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco — are better fits as defense-first reserves. Pence hurt his thumb while diving in left field during the home opener and said it has never gotten better. An MRI back then showed a sprain. 

“It’s been going in a backwards direction,” he said. 

So have the Giants, but perhaps help is finally on the way.