How MLB proposal changes Gabe Kapler, Giants' preparation for season

How MLB proposal changes Gabe Kapler, Giants' preparation for season

The Giants are realistic. They knew when they reported to Scottsdale Stadium in February that they did not yet have the talent base of most other organizations, but they also figured they could cut off that gap by doing more prep work than any of their opponents. 

That work has continued even in quarantine, and Gabe Kapler regularly gets his massive coaching staff and analytics group together to simulate games and talk through scenarios. There's just one problem: The Giants have been doggedly preparing for the National League West opponents they'll normally see 18 times a year, but the ground underneath them might be shifting. 

The proposal from the owners to the MLB Players Association reportedly will call for reduced travel, with the Giants playing their NL West counterparts but also seeing significant action against American League West teams. That would mean the loaded Astros, the up-and-coming A's, and Mike Trout and the Angels. During an appearance on KNBR on Monday afternoon, Kapler said the staff is already preparing for a schedule heavy on the American League.

"We spent a lot of time on the Dodgers, we spent a lot of time on the Diamondbacks, obviously preparing for the Padres, etc.," Kapler said. "We just changed our approach and our gameplan. We are definitely going to be preparing for the A's, we are definitely going to be preparing for the Angels and the Mariners and more interleague play. We just have to know that that's at least a possibility at that point, which gives us a lot of work. I mean, we have a lot to do considering we weren't preparing for those teams as much and now that's definitely on the table."

There are positives and negatives to all that. A schedule heavy on the AL West could be tough, as the Astros and A's in particular figured to be two of the four or five best teams in the American League. This schedule would give NL Central teams at least a small advantage in an expanded playoff race. 

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On the other hand, it would be a nice change of pace to see so much of Trout and also of the A's, and the Giants would unexpectedly get to face the Astros, the current bad boys of the sport, in 2020. And then, of course, there's the ultimate positive. 

[RELATED: Looking back at Giants prospects of 2013]

Talking about scouting Jose Altuve and Anthony Rendon means you're talking about baseball at all, and that's something we'll all take. Kapler thought Monday's developments were a good sign, and said he's "really optimistic" about the sport returning this summer.

"I think that from the players to the fans to the owners to the individual clubs, everybody is really excited about the prospect of playing baseball," Kapler said. "I think it's great that a proposal is on the table. I think it's great that it's getting examined. We've had lots of discussions about it internally and the way we think about it is we need to be ready for every possible outcome, for several different rule changes, for training in home cities or in spring training sites, and not to get too caught up in what's going to happen and preparing for that, rather than getting prepared for every possible outcome."

Farhan Zaidi explains worst-case scenario of calling Joey Bart up early

Farhan Zaidi explains worst-case scenario of calling Joey Bart up early

Farhan Zaidi hears your rallying cries begging for the Giants call up Joey Bart.

What's there to lose, right? Well, the Giants' president of baseball operations believes there's a lot to lose, and is doing everything in his power to make sure Bart's transition to the big leagues is as smooth as possible

"What we have to lose is putting Joey Bart on a career path that doesn't allow him to get the most out of his ability," Zaidi recently said to the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea on the "Giants Splash" podcast. "What we have to lose is calling him up, maybe a little too early, having him struggle, having that impact his confidence and that's the last thing we want to do.

"Frankly, we'd rather be a little late on calling him up than a little early on calling him up." 

Bart, 23, is considered the second-best catching prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft hit .278 with 16 home runs last season between Single-A San Jose and Double-A Richmond. He also missed multiple weeks after fracturing his left hand and then fractured his right thumb early on in the Arizona Fall League.

When Zaidi was the Los Angeles Dodgers' general manager, he faced similar decisions with calling up top prospects like Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager. Bellinger was just 21 years old when he made his MLB debut against the Giants in April 2017. Seager also was just 21 when he debuted in September 2015. 

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But Bellinger had 399 at-bats in Double-A and 78 more in Triple-A before he reached the big leagues. Seager had 228 in Double-A and 421 in Triple-A. Bart hasn't played a single game in Triple-A and only has 79 at-bats in Double-A. 

The goal is to make sure Bart follows a similar path as Bellinger and Seager. Bellinger won the NL MVP in just his third big league season. Seager won NL Rookie of the Year and already has been named to two All-Star Games. Those kind of accolades certainly are what Zaidi and Co. envision for Bart. 

With no minor league season this year, Bart is training at the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento. There, he's learning how to play first base and working on very specific aspects of his overall game. He isn't able to play in full games right now, but Zaidi believes he still is able to grow as a player. 

[RELATED: Zaidi, Giants reach key milestone with latest prospect trade]

"I still view him as getting important reps, because he's facing good pitching in Sacramento," Zaidi said. "We've got guys like Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez -- those guys are with the taxi squad right now -- but he had the opportunity to face those guys, as well as other guys who are Triple-A, big league pitchers.

"I think those are valuable reps." 

The Giants don't view Bart as someone who will just help them one day. They know he has superstar potential. And sometimes, that comes with a frustrating amount of patience.

How Giants' Austin Slater made adjustment to show early signs of breakout

How Giants' Austin Slater made adjustment to show early signs of breakout

For seven innings Monday night, the Giants were playing their worst game of the season. There was very little to be positive about, but in those final two frames, Austin Slater took a couple of swings that at least guaranteed the coaching staff would sleep a bit easier. 

Slater homered in the eighth and then kept the rally going with a single in the ninth. Both hits came off right-handed pitchers. Both went to right field. They had launch angles of 28 and 29 degrees, respectively. 

Slater has worked hard since debuting in 2017 to get the ball in the air more and take advantage of his natural strength, and he might finally be seeing consistent results. At the end of his Zoom press conference after a 6-4 loss, manager Gabe Kapler took some time to credit Slater for his pre-game work.

"When a player trains for the outcome that he had tonight, which is a home run to right-center field off a righty, I think it's worth noting," Kapler said. "Today in his batting practice session out on the field, we had the machine set up from an arm angle on the right side of a pitcher firing him fastballs. We were watching him in BP training for that moment, driving balls into the opposite field. 

"So when that practice session shows up into the game and rewards a player for that kind of high-level training and effort, I think it's worth noting. It's a good example for all of us to train at that speed and in a way that's pretty uncomfortable, and we can see the results translating."

Slater has three homers in the past three games, including two off Clayton Kershaw. He became the first Giant to homer off Kershaw twice in a game, but the shot off Josh James on Monday might have been more important to his development. 

The Giants know Slater sees lefties well. He's their leadoff hitter against them. But to avoid being a strict platoon piece, he'll have to do much better than his .238 average and .303 slugging percentage against righties last year. It's a very small sample, but Slater has five hits -- including that homer and a triple -- in 18 at-bats against right-handed pitching this season. He is doing damage against both, and doing it by driving the ball more. 

Slater's launch angle his first three seasons ranged from 1.6 percent to 3.4, with many of his hits coming on hard grounders through holes on the right side. He still doesn't pull the ball much, but this season that launch angle is 8.7 percent. He ranks 23rd in the big leagues and leads the Giants in percentage of batted balls that are barreled. 

The tools have always been there for Slater to be a good big league outfielder. He can play all three spots, has a strong arm, is a plus runner (he has four stolen bases already this year), and has a good approach at the plate. The biggest adjustment was driving the ball in the air, and early on, the signs are positive. 

[RELATED: Zaidi targeted Solano since Dodger days]

After taking Kershaw to dead-center twice on Saturday, Slater said it's been nice to see results. But he knew the work wasn't anywhere close to done. 

"That's still going to be an intention of mine, trying to get the ball in the air as much as possible," he said. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]