Giants

Giants' focus on player development includes massive facilities upgrade

Giants

For months, the Giants were coy about the new dimensions of Oracle Park, preferring to keep all information private until a press release with renderings went out shortly after the Winter Meetings.

But some eagle-eyed hikers at Papago Buttes in Phoenix might have unknowingly gotten a sneak peak of the changes to Triples Alley.

The Giants are just breaking ground on a state of the art minor league facility in the shadow of the Buttes, where Phoenix turns into Scottsdale. The complex, which is a three-mile drive from Scottsdale Stadium, will have the latest in baseball technology, a sprawling new weight room and modern rehab facilities that the Giants believe will vault them from the bottom of the league to the top in terms of minor league facilities, but the coolest feature might be a very simple one. 

The Giants plan to have six fields at their new facility, one of which will have the exact outfield dimensions of Candlestick Park. An adjacent field is being built with the new dimensions of Oracle Park. 

The nod to Candlestick adds a bit of nostalgia, but for the Giants, the upgrade to Papago Park is all about the future. From the big-league roster to the coaching staff, the Giants are putting a heavy, heavy emphasis on player development, but you can't seriously do that when your existing facility is cramped, outdated and forces players and coaches to fight for parking spots with a local gym.

 

The Giants moved into their Indian School complex in 2007 and immediately found that it was being surpassed by other organizations that train in the Phoenix area. Salt River Fields (where the Diamondbacks and Rockies train), Camelback Ranch (home of the Dodgers and White Sox) and the Cubs' Sloan Park dwarf what the Giants are working with in every way, but the organization has started to break ground on a new facility that will be ready when minor league camp begins in March, 2021. 

To keep up in what has become an arms race of sorts, the Giants are investing more than $50 million to rebuild Papago -- where A's minor leagues used to train --  from scratch. 

"We're not going from league average to something new," farm director Kyle Haines said. "We're going from the smallest square footage minor league facility in all of Major League Baseball to this."

When it's finished, Papago will give the Giants a year-round facility in Phoenix that will match or exceed what their division rivals have done in the area. They'll have two more fields than the current facility and they are being placed strategically for players' benefits, making it easier for prospects to get their work done and for coaches to schedule workouts. (The current facility leads to some long walks and includes a porta-potty as the nearest restroom for prospects playing in camp games.)

There will be more bullpen mounds and new batting cages in addition to meeting rooms and gathering spaces for players and coaches. 

The Giants are working with a fresh slate, literally tearing the old facility down and rebuilding from scratch, so much so that some trees were temporarily removed and put off to the side so that they could later be replanted around the current construction.

"We kept a couple of existing field footprints, but to be able to level the building and say what do we need, that's something we've been wishing for for a long time," Haines said. "To be able to build it in our vision -- obviously you can't do everything -- but the fact that you don't have to work around existing facilities and structures is incredible."

While team officials are hesitant to discuss the technological advantages they'll have, the upgrades there are said to be significant. The Giants started working on this project four years ago and many of the plans were drawn up by the previous administration, but Farhan Zaidi made additions when he took over the baseball operations department and Scott Harris has been involved in planning since coming on as GM in November.

Zaidi saw firsthand what upgraded facilities looked like when he moved from the A's to the Dodgers. Harris was with the Cubs as they built Sloan Park, which includes a Pitch Lab, a building containing bullpen mounds, Rapsodo machines and Edgertronic cameras. Zaidi said working on the new minor league facility was a point of emphasis when he took over. 

 

"Coming from the A's in 2014, we had an older facility, so it was kind of an education for me to be at Camelback Ranch with the Dodgers and seeing what that investment can do and how it can facilitate player development," Zaidi said. 

The facility goes hand in hand with everything else the Giants are doing. Last year they had two baseball operations analysts -- Michael Schwartze and Jack McGeary -- in the clubhouse and traveling with the team, and both were part of the interview process for new coaches. The young staff is well-versed in areas like biomechanics, and the Giants are hopeful that the new faces allow them to more adequately develop players at the big league level.

They have added instructors in the minors and a second rookie league team in Arizona. 

Zaidi plans to be aggressive with the promotions of top prospects, but those players haven't always been set up to succeed. Their spring training and offseason workouts come at an outdated facility, and team officials have noted in recent years how some of their better prospects have marveled at the weight rooms, fields and clubhouses of rivals while playing in the Arizona Fall League. 

"Their reaction is, 'Why can't the Giants have that?'" Haynes said. "The hope is that not only will we have that, we'll have something better."

The facility will be home to the next generation of top prospects, but it also will serve another important purpose. Big leaguers currently rehab their injuries at the Indian School complex. It was Johnny Cueto's home for months, and he found himself at a facility that was nowhere near what the Giants offer at Oracle Park. Many of the team's players -- including Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria -- live in the Phoenix area and now will be able to use the Papago facility as a year-round training ground and a weight room. 

[RELATED: Examining Giants' position battles as camp nears]

 
 
 

The Giants are also upgrading Scottsdale Stadium, with a multi-story building currently going up where there previously was a tent in the parking lot. The spring experience will be a much better one for big leaguers, but the organization is hopeful that Papago becomes a year-round destination for its best players and top prospects. 

"It's a very big investment by the organization," Zaidi said. "The emphasis that we're going to have on player development and taking our young talent and making sure that by the time it gets to the big leagues they're playing at the highest level, that's obviously going to be a main focus of ours in the coming years."