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

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."