Hunter Pence ready for winter ball after swing, running style changes


Hunter Pence ready for winter ball after swing, running style changes

SAN FRANCISCO -- On his last day with the Giants at AT&T Park, Hunter Pence stood in front of his locker and excitedly talked of the swing changes he'd start making during the first week of the offseason.

It turns out the overhaul included more than just his swing.

Pence also has made changes to the way he runs, which previously was nearly as unique as his swing, as he continues to work toward what he hopes will be another sprint to the postseason in 2019. He'll soon test his new swing and running style in games. On Dec. 5, Pence will travel to La Romana in the Dominican Republic to begin a winter ball stint.

First, he's headed back to San Francisco for two events.

On Saturday, Pence will be back at AT&T Park to represent Gone Rogue High Protein Chips at the Spartan Race. He partnered with Gone Rogue this offseason while using the protein chips in his daily training regimen. Three days later, Pence and his wife, Alexis, will be honored at the Holiday Heroes event at AT&T Park. The honor goes to athletes who have used their platform to make a difference for underserved children in the Bay Area. 

The next day, it's off to the Dominican, where Pence will represent Toros del Este. In a phone conversation Friday morning, the 35-year-old said he was excited about testing his new swing against live pitching. 

"I really want to go and immerse myself in winter ball, and really feel it out and see if I can make the adjustments," Pence said. "I've made the swing adjustments and done the training and done all of the work, but I want to produce for a team and work to win the World Series. I want to bring something to help a team win. I'm going to go out there and take that same intention to winter ball and implement the swing changes, and if the stars are aligned, I'll continue looking for a team to make in spring training."

Pence said he already has heard from a couple of teams since becoming a free agent for the first time, but his focus primarily has been on making changes. He first worked with swing coach Doug Latta during the season, visiting Los Angeles during his rehab assignment and trying to implement tweaks that have helped Justin Turner, Mac Williamson and others.

Pence said he actually first heard of Latta three years ago, when Marlon Byrd had a short late-season run with the Giants. Byrd also worked with Latta and enjoyed a late-career renaissance, playing until he was 38. Pence has trained with Byrd at times this offseason, which has consisted of very little rest. 

Two days after he rode off on a scooter, Pence was in Los Angeles for his first session. He hits for 90 minutes a day before heading to a workout. Pence ditched his new-look swing soon after returning to the majors this summer, and it didn't take him long this offseason to figure out why it was so hard to implement changes during his rehab assignment.

"There were a lot of moves that when I went and tried them during the season, I didn't even have the mobility to incorporate the move properly, and I didn't understand them properly," he said.

[RELATED: Pence sheds "joyful tears" when Giants rookies praise him

Two months into his offseason, that has changed, along with, he said, his former running style. He has worked with a specialist on that, too, although there's not nearly as much work to be done. While Pence hit just .226 with four homers last season, his sprint-speed numbers still were among the best on the team.

In a week, Pence will begin to find out if his swing can match the physical gifts that remain. He said he's excited, noting that he's very fortunate to already have played this long, and he's looking forward to extending his career.

"The game has changed so much," Pence said. "Pitchers have advanced a lot since I entered the league, and hitting has changed. Doug Latta and some of these other hitting schools that are teaching that underneath path are really changing the game. I'm excited to put it all together."

Why Giants brought up Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole when explaining new staff


Why Giants brought up Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole when explaining new staff

SAN DIEGO -- When you hear the words "player development," you think of 19-year-olds learning on back fields at the minor league facility in Scottsdale, or a roving hitting instructor spending time making swing changes with prospects Joey Bart or Heliot Ramos, or a coach teaching a Logan Webb or Sean Hjelle a new pitch. 

But when Giants manager Gabe Kapler talks about player development -- and he does so often -- he's also thinking about guys like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Kapler said this week that there's "not much I feel more strongly about" than players continuing to develop at the big league level, and that played a huge role as he hired a young staff that will ideally bring an innovative approach.

"There's evidence all over the place in Major League Baseball about players who reinvent themselves or take major steps forward and reestablish their value at the Major League level," Kapler said this week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

The Giants are building for the future, but they also believe they can squeeze much more out of the existing core. And when Bart and Ramos are veterans one day, they want those guys to continue to find new levels, too. As he talked about player development at the big league level, Kapler pivoted and told a story about Bryce Harper, who already had more than 900 games under his belt when he joined Kapler's Phillies last season. 

"Bryce Harper, I think, was influenced heavily by Paco Figueroa, our first base and outfield coach, mostly just because Paco was not concerned about approaching Bryce," Kapler said. "He recognized that Bryce Harper wanted to be coached and wanted to develop, and he was willing to approach. Bryce recognized that so much so that at the end of the year when we were doing our exit meetings, Bryce recognized that Paco had been influential in his career and helped him become a better outfielder and baserunner."

Harper was worth negative-26 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 according to Fangraphs -- just about the only blemish on his résumé as a free agent -- but was plus-9 in his first season in Philadelphia, a massive improvement. The Giants were actually intent on going that path long before Kapler arrived. When they offered Harper $310 million last year, their existing analytics and coaching staffs had ideas about how they could get more out of Harper defensively with positioning changes. 

Harper's not the only example the Giants will use to sell their vision to veteran players. General manager Scott Harris mentioned Gerrit Cole as another who found new ways to add to his game. 

"Look at the strides he made the last two seasons and now he signed the largest free-agent contract (for a pitcher) in the history of the game," Harris said. "You look at the strides he made when he first burst onto the scene for the Pirates and what he did in Houston. Their coaching staff was largely responsible for the development he saw at the Major League level."

The Astros' staff has gotten a lot of credit for turning Cole into the pitcher the Pirates were expecting when they took him first overall in 2011. Cole had a 3.50 ERA in Pittsburgh and a 2.68 ERA in Houston, where his strikeout rate jumped from 8.4 per nine innings to 13.1. He was worth 15.4 WAR in five seasons with the Pirates and then skyrocketed to 13.4 in two seasons in Houston. 

[RELATED: Kershaw believes Dodgers signing MadBum would be 'great']

Kapler and Harris are not walking into an organization that has a Harper or Cole, but they believe their new coaching staff and player-development methods can get the most out of existing talent. That'll be a focus in spring training, and the conversations have already begun with some veterans. Kapler, who mentioned J.D. Martinez as another example of late-career adjustments, said he has spoken to Posey multiple times since getting hired. 

"I think that a lot of established successful Major Leaguers want to get better and sometimes they don't know how," Kapler said. "In some cases, it's because coaches haven't approached them because they don't want to break something that's working well, but I think those days are gone and I think players crave having coaches approach them and ask them to make changes."

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Despite what Giants fans want to believe, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw are friends.

Before many Giants-Dodgers games over the years, they could be seen talking on the field, in plain sight of everyone.

So it should come as any surprise that Kershaw would love to have Bumgarner on the Dodgers.

"I love Bum," Kershaw said Friday at a Dodgers holiday event according to Dodgers Nation. "If we signed him, that’d be great."

NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported Thursday, citing sources, that the Dodgers and Bumgarner have a mutual interest in a deal.

Bumgarner in Dodger blue is the worst nightmare for Giants fans. But it's a real possibility with Los Angeles missing out on top free agent Gerrit Cole.

[RELATED: Padres reportedly looking at Bumgarner]

Kershaw hasn't been able to bring a World Series to Los Angeles on his own, so of course, he would love for a postseason hero to come help him end the Dodgers' title drought.