Giants excited to see Yolmer Sanchez's revamped swing, fun celebration

Giants excited to see Yolmer Sanchez's revamped swing, fun celebration

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Derek Holland was designated for assignment last July, the Giants lost their best celebration. Holland’s water jug became a staple of walk-off wins, so much so that a couple of teammates grabbed jugs to cap the walk-offs that occurred after Holland had been let go. 

This year’s team will have a new set of signals and celebrations, and the Giants have a new infielder who seems well-positioned to earn fan-favorite status. Yolmer Sanchez takes walk-off wins to a different level:

Sanchez said he started dousing himself because he simply likes to have fun, and he pointed out that you never know how long your big league career will last. You have to make the most of it. 

“I try to enjoy my time and enjoy everything that we do as a group,” he said. “I did it and the fans liked it so I continued to do it.”

The Giants are hoping Sanchez is doing more than just celebrating big hits. They are confident in his bat and the adjustments he’s making, and they’re counting on him to add production to the infield. 

Sanchez won a Gold Glove at second base last year -- he said his goal is to repeat and also win the Platinum Glove given to the league’s best defender -- and the Giants already have seen his slick feet and quick hands in action this spring. But they were more encouraged by what they saw in an early live BP session, when he pulled a homer comfortably over the wall. 

“That was kind of cool to see him square up a fastball and be on time with his swing and drive the ball to the air on the pull side,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “One thing we always know about Yolmer is his defense is always going to be there, so to the degree that some of those swing changes can take effect, we see him as being a really impactful player for us.”

Like most in camp, Sanchez is making subtle changes with a new Giants hitting coach. But his version of the story has a twist. He started working with hitting coach Justin Viele earlier this offseason when Sanchez was still with the White Sox and Viele was a minor league coach for the Dodgers. The two have reunited at Scottsdale Stadium, continuing to work on a new swing path that ideally will have Sanchez hitting more balls up the middle and to the gaps.

“I think that’s one of the things that was exciting about coming here,” Sanchez said of Viele. “He knows what I can do. If I feel good, if I feel comfortable, I believe in my talent and I believe I can do way better than last year, and I’m going to prove it.”

The 2019 numbers were low enough that the White Sox, who spent heavily over the offseason, non-tendered one of the league’s better defenders. Sanchez had a .638 OPS and just two homers, and his OPS+ was below league average for the sixth consecutive season.

But the Giants see some stretches in Sanchez’s past that could make him a good fit for their infield. He had a .738 OPS against lefties last year and was at .724 with eight homers the year before against righties. If the switch-hitter swings that way from either side, he would fit the platoon-heavy roster. 

Regardless, the glove work is so elite that Sanchez has been worth 8.2 WAR over the past three seasons. That should put him in the middle infield mix with Brandon Crawford, Mauricio Dubon, Wilmer Flores and Donovan Solano.

[RELATED: Bochy praises Bart, will have large role in minor leagues]

Sanchez turned down big league offers to come to San Francisco as a non-roster invitee. He’s hoping to win an everyday job and provide some production for the lineup, but if he’s in the dugout when the winning run is scored, Sanchez will be ready to contribute in a far funnier way. He smiled when asked if the Gatorade dumps will make a comeback. 

“We’ll see, that’s something that I don’t practice,” Sanchez said. “But I think at the right moment, I will do it, yeah.”

Will Clark shares funny story about homer off Nolan Ryan in MLB debut

Will Clark shares funny story about homer off Nolan Ryan in MLB debut

On April 8, 1986, 34 years ago to the date, Will Clark made his major league debut with the Giants.

And it was a debut Clark and everyone else involved won't forget.

Clark's first career at-bat is the stuff of legends.

With the Giants facing the Astros in Houston, Clark had to face Nolan Ryan, one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball history.

Instead of easing Clark in by putting him at the bottom of the lineup, Giants manager Roger Craig batted the rookie second, guaranteeing a first-inning at-bat.

Rather than striking out against "The Ryan Express," Clark crushed his first career homer in his first at-bat.

In an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez this past weekend, Clark recalled the scene in the dugout after he rounded the bases.

"So I come in and everyone is excited and I'm high-fiving everybody and we sit down on the bench and there's just like this calm, and nobody was really fired up," Clark said. "Everybody was kind of looking around and [Giants pitcher] Mike Krukow sorta says it best. Everybody's looking around going 'What the hell did he just do?' That kind of thing. Off of Nolan Ryan. Dead center field in the Astrodome.

"So then, I'm sitting there, and like I said, this calm came over me, and I don't know why, I looked at Chili Davis, who was sitting on my left, and I said 'Chili, he's going to drill me next time up?' And he goes 'Oh hell yeah.'

"And the next time up, Nolan's in his wind up and I'm already easing to the ground and it was up and in, but it was just a message pitch."

[RELATED: Giants set to retire Clark's number]

The homer was Clark's only hit of the game, but the Giants went on to win 8-3.

So in his big league debut, Clark homered, didn't get drilled by Ryan and left the Astrodome with a win. Not a bad day for the 22-year-old.

How Gabe Kapler, Giants coaches are getting work done during MLB hiatus

How Gabe Kapler, Giants coaches are getting work done during MLB hiatus

For a month in Scottsdale, reporters asked subtle questions, hoping to dig up another breadcrumb that would ultimately help answer what fans were asking. Who was Gabe Kapler going to use in the ninth inning? Which pitcher would be his fifth starter? Was he going to have Mike Yastrzemski as his leadoff hitter, or Mauricio Dubon, or perhaps someone else? Is Buster Posey still hitting in the heart of the Giants' lineup?

When baseball resumes, whenever it does, that process will pick back up. There's something special about a lineup. People want to see it, debate it, tell you why their version would be better. At some point, that will be part of normal life again. But for now, Kapler still mostly has managed to keep his preferences close to the chest. The answers to all those questions are known only to Kapler, some of his coaches and analytics people, and front-office officials. 

Oh, and also the PlayStation sitting in his condo in Scottsdale.

Kapler is an outspoken proponent of social distancing and flattening the curve, and his staff has followed suit. But it's a group full of restless people who won't just simply wait for the call that they can return. The staff has been trying to find ways to improve during this hiatus, starting with that PlayStation.

It was the brainchild of Justin Viele, the young co-hitting coach who uses "MLB: The Show" to scout opposing pitchers. Kapler has picked the habit up over the past month, using the video game to get through a season in quick manage mode.

"You can play a game in about five minutes," Kapler said on this week's Giants Insider Podcast. "It's just kind of going through each at-bat and making the decisions along the way. It's a good way to learn opposing bullpens and who is in them and how highly they're rated. That's another way we're using video games to stay in shape."

For nearly a month now, the staff has been barred from Scottsdale Stadium. Kapler's office there had two doors and he encouraged his 13 coaches to walk through on their way to other meetings, or pop in during the day for a quick chat. He has tried to keep that vibe going during a strange time for the sport, using technology that's now part of everyday life for a country on lockdown. 

Yes, the Giants are fully on board the Zoom train. They're using it for big meetings and small ones. First base/outfield coach Antoan Richardson is holding Zoom calls with outfielders to dig into the nuances of outfield play, something that can get lost during a long season. The staff even uses Zoom to run a book club. They're currently reading "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle. The book sells itself as unlocking "the secrets of highly successful groups."

"We're breaking into smaller groups as a staff -- and as you know, we've got a pretty big staff -- so we've got several smaller groups having Zoom calls discussing how to make our culture stronger as a result of reading that book," Kapler said. 

The Giants also make regular use of Trello, an app that tracks and logs conversations, videos and drill packages. If one of his hitting coaches has a 30-minute conversation with a player and shares some highlights, Kapler can get a quick rundown of how it went. Those types of conversations are happening daily, although Kapler said he's careful not to overdo it. He's talking to several players a day but understands that some would prefer their space right now. 

"This is just an opportunity to connect," Kapler said. "I think when players are isolated and they're by themselves, a catch-up conversation can only help."

Listen and subscribe to the Giants Insider Podcast

The coaches are doing the same, although there's only so much you can accomplish over the phone or during a video call. Still, the Giants are regularly sending workout plans to players and some are taking part in virtual yoga classes. The organization's nutrition department is taping cooking demonstrations to help players make healthy meals. 

The rest of the time right now isn't all that different whether you're working from home because your tech office in SoMa closed, or because you're the manager of the Giants and you have no ballpark to report to. Kapler, a health enthusiast throughout his career, was digging deep into COVID-19 even before camp shut down, and one of the first things he does every morning is listen to "Up First," a 10-minute news podcast from NPR. 

Like most Americans, he is digesting regular updates on social media, where he also has gotten a kick out of seeing some of the creative training methods of his players. Kapler is encouraged that the Giants are using this time to try and get better, and he said they'll come out of this with "best practices" and some new teaching tools. They'll also be much better with a video game controller in their hands. 

[RELATED: MLB's proposed plan to start in May has plenty of holes]

The PlayStation simulations will continue, and Kapler also plans to play "Out of the Park Baseball," a computer game that also allows simulations. The Giants aren't facing NL West opponents right now, but Kapler is still trying to simulate that feeling. 

So ... how are the virtual Giants doing?

"Maybe I'll lean on the sample size is too small right now," Kapler said, laughing. "But I'll say this, it's fun to see the player of the game. I sent a player of the game screenshot to Brandon Crawford when we beat Madison Bumgarner, and that was pretty fun. We had a nice back and forth and he sent me back a shot of him in a hoops game, so that was kind of cool. And then I did the same thing with Wilmer Flores. 

"It's kind of a fun way to stay in touch with players and a fun way to stay up to speed on what's going on around baseball."