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Kapler reacts to interesting rule changes in minor leagues

NBC Sports

After the way the Giants handled some of the new rules last season, you could completely understand if Gabe Kapler had a negative reaction to MLB's announcement Thursday about changes to the minor leagues.

Kapler's first experience with the runner-on-second rule was a nightmare, with the Giants allowing six runs in their first extra inning of the year and Kapler having to apologize to reliever Tyler Rogers after he tried to remove him when he wasn't allowed to. The Giants didn't fare any better with seven-inning doubleheaders, losing five of six, getting shut out three times, and watching the Padres hit a walk off homer at Oracle Park.

Kapler, though, attacks every part of his job with a "how can we do this in a better way" mentality, and that was what came to mind when he saw MLB's dramatic rule changes for the minor leagues. 

"I trust that trying new things is good for the game," he said Thursday.

MLB feels the same way, with some pretty familiar names leading the charge. The press release to announce the changes quoted Theo Epstein, Raul Ibañez and former Marlins exec Michael Hill, all of whom now work in the league office. Epstein wrote that MLB must be "thoughtful and intentional about progressing toward the very best version of baseball," noting that these changes are designed to put action and athleticism on display for fans "of all ages."


That was the key with Thursday's announcement, as MLB is pushing hard to ultimately bring more action to a big league game that has veered too far toward the three true outcomes: homers, strikeouts and walks. 

The biggest change will come in Double-A, with teams told they must keep four players on the infield dirt, a change designed to drastically limit shifting. In Low-A, there will be a limit on pickoffs by pitchers (two per plate appearance), a pitch clock, and, in one league, an automatic ball-strike system. Triple-A will experiment with larger bases to reduce injuries and juice stolen base rates. 

In theory, the changes should lead to more singles and doubles sneaking through the infield, and much more action once those runners are on base. Kapler said he's on board with MLB trying all this out at the minor league level. 

"I think what I'm most interested in is the fans getting a really exciting brand of baseball," he said. "A rule like we're implementing at the minor league level that's designed to make the game move a little bit more quickly and to kind of provide a little bit more of an advantage, I suppose, to a baserunner, is a really cool thing to experiment with. When it comes to rule changes, I really like the trial-and-error concept that we've started to adopt in baseball.

"I think it's the best form of science, or a really effective form of science, and what we learned from last year at the Major League level is that when we try new things we find that some of them are quite palatable. I'm in favor of experimenting with ways to make the game more exciting for fans and just a better all-around product, and I think we're inching in the right direction."

While last year's adjustments didn't always work out for the Giants, it wasn't for a lack of effort. During the hiatus in the spring and early summer, Kapler spent plenty of time talking to members of his staff who had recently been in the minors, eager to find out where you could get an edge. It's likely he'll have to do the same after this season.

MLB isn't experimenting just for the minors; if these rules are popular, they'll be brought to the big league level. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi noted before last season that the runner-on-second rule was well-liked in the minors and he wouldn't be surprised if it had staying power. It's now back for a second season. 

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Kapler said he tries to stay as open-minded as possible and noted there's a "really intelligent group" at MLB working on these changes. For now, he doesn't have to worry about implementing them, but at some point he likely will. 

"My job is to focus on the San Francisco Giants," he said, "And then to be as creative as possible within the construct of the rules that are implemented."


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