Brandon Belt

How Giants manager Gabe Kapler plans to handle veteran core of lineup

How Giants manager Gabe Kapler plans to handle veteran core of lineup

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gabe Kapler spent the last month talking to Giants employees about why he would be the right fit for the job, and on Wednesday he spent nearly an hour on a podium discussing his past and future. But now Kapler plans to listen.

The new Giants manager is three months from the start of spring training and soon after that he'll have to start putting together lineups. On the Giants Insider Podcast, Kapler said he plans to talk to core players before revealing any preferences. 

"An executive in Los Angeles once said to me: 'Know where they've been, know where they are, know where they're going," Kapler said. "In order to know those three things, I need to be able to ask those questions and hear what's going on in their brains."

The arrival of Kapler -- and general manager Scott Harris -- should lead to big changes even if the Giants aren't able to trade any veterans. Bruce Bochy had too much respect for Buster Posey's past accomplishments to move him out of the heart of the order, but Kapler enters without that history.

Brandon Crawford is coming off a down year and could lose time to Mauricio Dubon or a newcomer. Brandon Belt didn't hit for much power last year, but Bochy hit him leadoff at times because of his ability to have good plate appearances, and Kapler complimented Belt during his press conference Wednesday. 

"I've thought a lot about Brandon Belt (and) how impressive it is to watch him take an at-bat, independent of the outcome of the at-bat," Kapler said. "He tends to look over pitches and make really good swing-or-don't-swing decisions."

It'll now be up to Kapler to figure out the best configuration. He said he already has started digging into his new options, and he's excited about meeting the longtime Giants. 

"In preparing for an interview like this, you start to learn the players: The areas where they've taken off since you might have seen them last, the areas where they might have regressed a little bit," he said. "Before any real lineup decisions are made or any strategic decisions are made, tactical decisions, you have conversations with the players. I think that's a really important part of the process that sometimes gets blown past.

"I don't think it makes any sense for me to come in here and say Brandon Belt is going to lead off for us and Evan Longoria will hit in this spot and Buster Posey is going to play 'X' amount of games. All of those things we have an idea and a feel for, but much more importantly, before I make any decision like that or suggest any decision like that, I'll have a conversation with Buster, have a conversation with Evan, find out where they've been."

The perception in some circles is that Kapler was brought in partly because he can have those conversations before taking lineup suggestions from Zaidi, a close friend. But Kapler said he had autonomy in Philadelphia and doesn't expect a change, although he's happy to have input from the front office.

[RELATED: Zaidi lands his guy in Kapler, who must prove he fits Giants]

"I see it as a plus and a positive that Farhan will be invested in what happens on the field," he said. "That's the way it should be. But it's also important to note that I have a fairly strong personality. I've always shared my opinions. I always will share my opinions. We'll just come to the best decisions that help the San Francisco Giants win baseball games."

For more of Kapler's thoughts on strategy, bullpen usage, developing top prospects, his reunion with Zaidi, and those ice cream urban legends, you can stream the Giants Insider Podcast here or download it on iTunes here.

Click here to watch the full Kapler interview

Watch Gabe Kapler laugh at Giants slugger Brandon Belt for trying to bunt

Watch Gabe Kapler laugh at Giants slugger Brandon Belt for trying to bunt

Gabe Kapler already has a history of managing Brandon Belt.

Well, sort of.

NBC Sports' Ahmed Fareed reminded us of a moment between Belt and the newly named Giants manager last year, when Kapler was with the Phillies.

That's right: On a 3-1 count with no one on base, Belt squared to bunt. That's caused Kapler to look up from the dugout, smile and shout, "Swing!"

More expletives were involved, but you get the idea.

The Giants' first baseman, who only has one sacrifice bunt in 4,221 career plate appearances, must have heard Kapler's demand because he then took a hack for a single to right field.

[RELATED: Kapler's clubhouse relationship must be focal point]

Whatever works.

It's nice to know the communication already is open between them.

Mauricio Dubon soaked up plenty of knowledge during month with Giants

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USATSI

Mauricio Dubon soaked up plenty of knowledge during month with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants never called 2019 a rebuilding year, instead preferring to view it as more of a transition. A defining image of that plan might have come during batting practice a few days before the final out of the season, with no fans in the stands and few paying attention.

Brandon Crawford and Mauricio Dubon stood at shortstop and took turns fielding grounders deep in the hole. Crawford showed Dubon how he positioned himself for a backhand snag and twisted his body to make a strong throw to first. It's a play Crawford has made look easy in his nine seasons in the big leagues. It's one Dubon wants in his arsenal. 

"I saw that play while watching him growing up," said Dubon, a Giants fan since he moved to northern California as a teenager. "That's the first thing I asked him when I met him: 'How do you make that play?'"

The two spent a few minutes alternating throws as a couple of veteran coaches looked on and smiled. One of these years, it may be the 25-year-old Dubon making that play for the Giants rather than the 32-year-old Crawford. More likely, they'll team up together next year to form a strong defensive duo in the middle of the infield. 

Of all the finds this year, Dubon, acquired at the deadline from the Brewers, might have been the most exciting. He is young enough that there's still plenty of untapped potential, but savvy enough about the game that he's ready to play every day right now. Dubon is as likely as any current Giant to be part of the next true contender at Oracle Park, and on Opening Day next year, he may find himself once again sharing an infield with Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey as the core looks to recover from a disappointing 2019. 

"We're going to continue to challenge Mauricio," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "He's going to have to come to spring training and earn that spot and there are still things in his game that he has to work on and refine like any young player, like any player coming up to the big leagues for the first time, but there's a lot to be excited about in terms of just his ability to put the bat to the ball, to limit strikeouts, to put the ball in play, hit with power. He showed some exciting stuff in the field, as well. 

"We're going to continue to challenge him, and as we did this year and as I imagine we'll do a lot next year, we're going to create competition at these spots and guys are going to have to earn their roles and their playing time. He's no different but I'm really excited about the job he did this year."

Dubon hit .279 in a 28-game audition, with an OPS+ of 99, four homers, and five doubles. Defensively, he looks ready for either middle infield spot, and the staff was thrilled with the way he battled through at-bats and showed a strong two-strike approach. The Giants would like him to get stronger and felt the bat was knocked out of his hands at times, but that should come with age and more time with the big league training staff. 

The competitiveness is something that can't be taught, and Crawford and Ron Wotus, who coached the infield, both spoke about how eager Dubon was to learn. Wotus was supposed to do infield drills with Dubon on the Wednesday of the final week, but the Giants ended up playing 16 innings the night before. When Wotus showed up the next day he decided to give the rookie a break, but Dubon was there, asking for additional ground balls.

Earlier in September, cameras caught Dubon and Posey having a long conversation in the dugout. Dubon said Posey taught him a lot about "how to be a professional and how to go about your business."

[RELATED: Dubon gets engaged at Disneyland Paris]

The education will continue all spring, with Dubon coming in as the favorite to earn a starting job at second base. As he sat at his locker late last month and thought about how far he had come, Dubon smiled and shook his head. He's ready for what's ahead of him.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah -- I'm excited for next year," he said. "I keep messing with the guys in here, I'm like, 'Damn, I wish we had one more month to play.' It's going to be fun next year. You know what to expect and I'll work hard to stay here."