River Cats hitting coach Damon Minor passing down the 'Giants Way'

River Cats hitting coach Damon Minor passing down the 'Giants Way'

Every October for the last quarter century, baseball’s top young prospects showcase and develop their skills with six weeks of high-level competition in the desert, where 180 players come together to form six teams and play in the Arizona Fall League.

The Giants sent eight players to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2016 – third baseman Ryder Jones, catchers Aramis Garcia and Eliezer Zambrano, outfielder Hunter Cole and pitchers Rodolfo Martinez, Tyler Mizenko, Tyler Rogers and Chris Stratton.

Of the position players, Jones’ numbers might have been the most impressive, but Scorpions hitting coach and former Giants first baseman Damon Minor left Arizona and returned to his offseason home feeling strong about the Giants’ overall crop of talent.

“With guys like Ryder Jones and Aramis Garcia, and then Hunter Cole as an athlete out in the outfield, the Giants showed some great young talent down there,” Minor told

Jones rode a second-half groove to finish with a .302 batting average, .380 on-base percentage, .429 slugging percentage, two home runs and 12 RBI in 18 games.

“For Ryder it was just about seeing pitches, and especially with two strikes” Minor said. “He stopped expanding his zone so much and was able to get more pitches to hit.”

Jones batted .357 and hit both round-trippers while walking six times to just three strikeouts in his final nine games. And Minor, who was known more as a player for big flies than drawing walks, is finding a niche as the Giants’ Triple-A hitting coach for the franchise that made him a four-year MLB veteran.

The 42-year-old Minor this year is entering his second season as the Sacramento River Cats hitting coach, a position he never dreamed of holding during his playing tenure.

“As a player, you never really think about coaching because you’re just so focused on being a player and getting that next at-bat,” Minor said. “But I always wanted to be back with the Giants.”

After his playing career ended in 2006 with 12 games in the Mexican League, Minor’s post-playing career began modestly. He first ventured into coaching in 2007 as a volunteer at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. Later, private hitting lessons developed into the Minor-Floral Baseball Academy, which Minor co-founded in 2008. And in 2012, Minor was hired as the hitting coach for the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate – the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Four years later, Minor jumped at the opportunity to return to the Giants organization.

“I was lucky enough to be able to come back,” Minor said, “which is something I always wanted to do.”

Minor cited Giants coaches like former manager Dusty Baker and long-time infield coach Ron Wotus for instilling in him the “Giants Way.” Now, that’s Minor’s job, and it’s much different from his former role as a player.

Minor arrives at Raley’s Field in Sacramento around 12 p.m. for a standard 7 p.m. night game and is met with the task of preparing players to succeed that night as well as the challenge of developing players for a long professional baseball career.

“As a player, you would kind of just show up and be ready to play that game that night,” Minor said. “But as a coach, you’re there early and helping prepare for all these different guys. It’s a long process, but it’s all worth it because I love what I do and it’s so fulfilling seeing these guys progress and have success as Giants.”

Minor enjoyed a successful career with Fresno Grizzlies, then the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, slugging 79 home runs, 259 RBI and a .297 batting average over 388 games in five seasons, but it’s the lessons he learned along the way observing his coaches that most help him in his current position.

“I think for me,” Minor said, “it was seeing that Giants Way and learning from guys like Dusty Baker and Ron Wotus and that’s really helped me more than anything else in what I do today.”

Asked about his favorite moment on the field with the Giants, the 6-foot-7 slugger didn’t hesitate: In a 10-2 home win over the Padres on Sept. 10, 2000, Minor clanged his first major league hit off the right field foul pole, good for a three-run homer that caromed back onto the field.

He keeps the ball and the memory forever in a safe place. Time will tell if his coaching career produces a new favorite Giants memory.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”