Andrew Bailey

Giants coaches believe players can get ready for shortened MLB season

Giants coaches believe players can get ready for shortened MLB season

For a few weeks now players have been eyeing the first week of July, hopeful that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association find a compromise that gets the game back on the field sometime around the time fireworks are scheduled to go off.

But every day that passes without a deal is one less day for the staff to potentially get players ready. At some point, that might lead to tension as teams look at the calendar, but for now the Giants still believe they have plenty of time to prepare for a shortened season. 

On last week's "Chalk Talk at Home," pitching coach Andrew Bailey and hitting coach Donnie Ecker said they're confident that Spring Training 2.0 can get their players ready in about three weeks. 

"I think it depends on where these guys are coming in," Bailey said. "I think we can do it in the three-week timespan. We may not be seeing a full workload, 100 pitches or whatever you see. I think that we still have to do some buildup there, but we can definitely get guys ready in that timeframe and be a little bit cautious with back-to-backs and different things and monitor (them). Ideally, the longer the better, for sure, on the pitching side of things."

Ecker said the hitting coaches -- himself, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind -- are looking at a similar timeframe, although they do have more wiggle room. 

"I think we need a lot less time from a physiological standpoint than pitchers do," he said. "The three week (schedule) is kind of a sweet spot for us to get enough live at-bats in."

While it takes some work to get your timing down, the Giants should have more than enough time to get their lineup ready. Buster Posey has often gone into a season with just a couple dozen at-bats under his belt, and the veteran-filled lineup is full of players who won't need much more than that if they're able to play games in their second spring. Pitching machines are so advanced these days that players are able to take unlimited hacks against machine-thrown breaking balls or 100 mph fastballs. Many of the team's veterans have posted clips on Instagram where they're hitting off machines at home. 

It's a bit more complicated for pitchers, but Bailey said he is starting to get calls from players who live in areas that have opened up to the point that you can throw live BP sessions and simulated games against hitters. The analytics staff put together a questionnaire that allows the Giants to track and log throwing programs on a daily basis. 

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Bailey is leaning on over-communicating, and the message from the staff has been to over-prepare if possible. Ideally, the Giants would like their pitchers to come in more stretched out than they normally would, giving them flexibility when games start. 

"We'll just get creative with our staff, our usage and make sure that their workloads are okay and healthy," Bailey said. "I think obviously winning is at the forefront of everybody's mind, but keeping our players healthy for 2020 is a priority of ours as well."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Gabe Kapler, coaching staff help Junior Giants pivot to at-home program

Gabe Kapler, coaching staff help Junior Giants pivot to at-home program

One of the best Giants events every year is held a couple miles from the actual field. The Play Ball Lunch, put on annually at a downtown hotel, is an unofficial "welcome back to San Francisco" moment for players and coaches every spring, and it shines a spotlight on the Junior Giants program. 

The event was one of the first to get postponed when social distancing rules started to go into place, but Gabe Kapler and his new staff helped come up with a creative idea to assist the Junior Giants in putting a program in place even as participants are unable to take the field.

The organization is doing "Junior Giants At Home" this year, running a free four-week virtual season that includes plenty of instructional videos from the coaching staff, like this one from pitching coach Andrew Bailey: 

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The Junior Giants already were pivoting to an at-home program when Kapler reached out and offered to make training videos for the players, who range in age from five to 18. The coaching staff provided 18 videos and two more came from the team's director of nutrition, Leron Sarig, and strength and conditioning coach Brad Lawson. 

Junior Giants serves about 24,000 young players from California, Oregon and Nevada. The At Home program will focus on making sure players feel supported and safe during this strange time, "while being virtually connected to the sport they love and their teammates."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Why Giants will use in-game interpreter for native Spanish speakers

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USATSI

Why Giants will use in-game interpreter for native Spanish speakers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Picture this scenario. The Giants have a one-run lead in the seventh inning at Oracle Park, with a young reliever trying to strand a runner on second and two outs. He came to the United States when he was 17, and while his English has improved, he still is not close to being fluent.

In a huge spot, with 30,000 people staring down at him, the pitcher is trying to communicate his pitch preference in a language he has not yet mastered, to a catcher and a manager who can chat with him but did not grow up speaking the same language. 

The Gabe Kapler Era has thus far been dominated by curiosity, by a desire to find a different and more efficient way to do things. As Kapler sits around with his 13-person coaching staff, the question is often a simple one.

Is there a better way to do this?

During one meeting, Kapler and bench coach Kai Correa asked quality assurance coach Nick Ortiz if there was a better way to communicate with Spanish-speaking pitchers during games. The Giants asked for and received permission to have Ortiz in the dugout as an in-game interpreter. He will not replace one of the seven coaches allowed in the dugout per MLB rules, but he will be more visible than most of them.

Every time Kapler or pitching coach Andrew Bailey goes out to the mound to speak to a pitcher whose first language was Spanish, Ortiz will come along as an interpreter. 

"It's something that definitely will make an impact," Ortiz said. "Every time you try to bring information to someone, you want to make sure they have a 100 percent understanding of what you're trying to do."

Once you hear the idea, you wonder why teams haven't always done it this way. When an organization signs a veteran from Japan or South Korea, he always gets his own interpreter, someone to walk to the mound with the manager and help with communication. But for some reason, teams have not done that with Spanish-speaking players. 

The new-look Giants asked a simple question: Why? Why are we putting these players at a disadvantage?

"It feels really intuitive, because there are so many nuances in those conversations on the mound, between a pitching coach and a pitcher, and to some degree when you're taking a pitcher out of the game as a manager," Kapler said. "You really want to send a concise message and you want not just the words to be translated, but the intent of those words to be communicated effectively. When the adrenaline is running high, I think it's easier to digest when something is shared with you in your native language. It does feel really intuitive and like something that we really want to experiment with."

It wasn't until 2016 that MLB required every team to have full-time Spanish language interpreters. The Giants use Erwin Higueros, a member of the organization's broadcast team and PR staff for interviews, but he is not in the dugout or clubhouse during games. Before that, in a sport where many of the biggest stars come from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, players often had to speak to reporters and coaches through teammates who were fluent, or close, in both languages. Gregor Blanco helped plenty of young Giants over the years, but sometimes it was someone like Emmanuel Burriss, who spoke good Spanish. 

Kapler said he thought about trying this in Philadelphia, but the staff there never felt like the situation was quite right. He has hired a young group that is focused on being open-minded and trying new things in San Francisco. When the Giants announced most of their staff at the Winter Meetings, Kapler said one of the final remaining hires would be a native Spanish speaker. The Giants hired Ortiz, a 46-year-old who spent 15 seasons in the minor leagues and 16 offseasons in the Puerto Rican Winter League, in January. Ortiz was born in Puerto Rico. 

"He's got a really good way about him and a delivery that makes you want to listen," Kapler said. "It just felt like the right combination at the right time."

The Giants will start using Ortiz as an in-game interpreter this spring to help players get comfortable. They plan to use Ortiz for every native Spanish speaker, including Johnny Cueto, who speaks English well but still prefers to use Higueros as an interpreter for interviews. The staff also wants the catchers to get used to the transition.

"I'm sure there were certainly times where I've been out there and thought I was communicating better than I was," catcher Buster Posey said. "This'll button up the communication."

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The hope is that this catches on and becomes part of the norm. On the 40-man roster alone, the Giants have eight pitchers who were born outside of the United States, and for the first time, their player-specific spring training workout plans and goals were handed to them in Spanish. 

Kapler wants this to give the native Spanish speakers a little more help during games. He speaks Spanish himself, but he said there were times in the past when he would have said more to a pitcher on the mound had an interpreter been there. 

"I would have expanded on a thought and had the ability to influence the conversation differently had I had a native Spanish speaker with me," he said. "There's a huge investment, on my part personally but also with our coaching staff, to have our native Spanish speakers feel like they're on equal footing as our native English speakers. I just care deeply about that."