Results tagged ‘ Bobby Evans ’

Winter League Lessons

I phoned Giants player personnel
director Bobby Evans this week – he’s back east with his family
for the holidays — to talk about the fall league and winter ball. I
wanted to know what he learns about his players when he looks at
their stats from these brief seasons in far-flung places.

“For most of the players, it’s a
development opportunity,” Evans said. “These are not rec
leagues. They’re competitive, spirited, driven programs. You
succeed or you come home. The pressure is high and the stakes are
high.

“As hard as it is for young Latin
players to come to the U.S. and succeed, that’s what it’s like
for American players to go into competitive winter ball leagues.”

Nate Schierholtz, for example, hit .324
in Puerto Rico after a frustrating regular season that saw him
sidelined for a stretch with a strained hip. Winter ball “was a
strong development opportunity for Nate and shows how tough he is,”
Evans said.

Kevin Frandsen also did well in the
Puerto Rican league, hitting .337. “He’ll compete to be one of
the utility guys on the big league club,” Evans said. “He was
healthy all year and showed what kind of player he’s capable of
being. Just like Nate, by doing well in Puerto Rico, it turns heads.
Helps people see, ‘Hey, I’m not slowing down. I’m going to do
everything I can to compete.’ ”

For Brett Pill, the young first-baseman
who had a breakout 2009 season in the minors, the winter league in
Venezuela was a confidence boost. He batted .329 with a .411 on-base
percentage.

“When you’re playing alongside
major-league players you’ve only seen on SportsCenter, and you’re
doing well, it’s an eye-opener. You’re thinking, ‘I can compete
with these guys.’ It’s going to help him approach the next level
– his first major-league spring training — with a lot more
confidence.”

Evans puts less stock in the
performances in the Arizona fall league, where Brandon Crawford and
Buster Posey played.

“You can’t read too much into
whether you were successful or unsuccessful because you get such
limited at-bats,” Evans said.

Crawford hit .312 and Posey .225.

“As much as he might have struggled
offensively,” Evans said of Posey, “he showed a respectable
on-base percentage (.324). It was a long year for him between
big-league camp, five months in the minor leagues in two different
places followed by a September call-up and fall league. Not question
there was strain on him.’

Evans said Crawford, whose impressive
performance in Single A early on in 2009 seemed almost effortless, is
expected to start the season in Double A “and see where the season
takes him. What we’ve seen in him is a sense of passion. He’s
driven.”

No word yet on whether Pablo Sandoval
has been successful in maintaining his weight-loss from his Operation
Panda conditioning camp. He hit .395 in Venezuela, his home country.
The Giants expect to see Sandoval back in San Francisco in a couple
weeks.

John Bowker’s winter-league season
was cut short by a quadriceps strain. (He played in just three
games.) He’s been receiving treatment in San Francisco and is
expected to be ready for spring training.

Have a great New Year. See you in 2010.

Ryan Sadowski

The more I find out about Ryan Sadowski, the more unlikely his story becomes.

This is a guy who, at the University of Florida, pitched 6.2 innings in seven appearances in 2002 (accumulating a 8.10 ERA) and a third of an inning in 2003 (he faced two batters and walked both).

So a grand total of seven innings in two years.

Yet the Giants made him their 12th-round pick in 2003.

Why?

I called VP of baseball operations Bobby Evans to find out.

He said Dick Tidrow, the Giants’ VP of player personnel, saw Sadowski at a scouting workout before the draft.

“He saw something he liked,” Evans said, “something he could work with.”

But he got off to an inauspicious start. At Salem-Keiser that summer, Sadowski began suffering from headaches and was so sick by season’s end that he couldn’t pitch in a playoff game. It wasn’t until he went home to South Florida that doctors diagnosed a subdural hematoma. He had emergency brain surgery to remove the accumulation of blood and spent two days in intensive care. Sadowski’s best guess is that he suffered the injury when he fell in the shower early in the season.

“You’ve got to give him credit,” Evans said. “He’s worked hard at every level of the minor leagues. He’s not a guy that people have talked about. He just worked hard and learned how to pitch. He’s got a great cutter that’s tough on right-handed hitters. He has a solid slider, change-up, breaking ball. He throws down in the zone a lot, so when he makes a mistake, it’s down rather than up over the plate.”

Sadowski’s emergence after six years in the minor leagues is a testament, Evans says, not just to Sadowski’s work ethic but also to the coaching that young Giants players receive in the farm system.

“I think maybe the Giants do a better job than most organizations in developing players,” Evans said. “It doesn’t matter how high or low you get drafted. You’re going to get the coaching and you’re going to get a chance to earn your way onto the major-league roster.”

So maybe Sadowski’s story isn’t so much an unlikely one as it is simply an old-fashioned baseball tale, in which a fairly unremarkable guy with a bit of raw talent works really hard, listens to his coaches, rides the minor-league buses for six years, learns how to pitch and, without the slightest bit of name recognition, arrives one summer day to play in his first big league game.

And he pitches six scoreless innings to get the win. And the team lets him hang around for a second start. And he earns a second win in another shutout.

As Evans said, you have to give a lot of credit to Tidrow. Of all the pitchers on that 2002 University of Florida team – the top two had 3.24 and 3.88 ERAs — Sadowski is the only one to make the major leagues. If Sadowski keeps winning, I’ll track down Tidrow to find out exactly what he saw, and how many more like him Tidrow has tucked away in Norwich or Fresno or San Jose.

Busmans Holiday

The Giants were off on Monday, so Alex Hinshaw decided to head down to San Jose and take in a Giants game. His roommate, Joe Martinez, thought that sounded like a good idea, so he went, too.

When they arrived, who do they see but Pablo Sandoval, who took in the game with a cousin and a friend from Venezuela.

“Pablo is loved down there,” Hinshaw said in the clubhouse before today’s game against the Padres. “You should have seen it. He’s walking down the aisle and everybody’s cheering for me.

“And everybody was asking how Joe was doing. I thought I flew completely under the radar when I was playing there, so I didn’t think I had made much of an impression, but the fans who did remember me were nice enough to say how much they had enjoyed watching me play.

“The fans down there just treat you like gold, whether you’re the best guy or the worst guy on the team.”

They saw Buster Posey hit two balls that almost cleared the right-centerfield wall – an impressive showing. Conor Gillaspie hit his first home run of the season and Clayton Tanner pitched 5 2/3 innings to lead the Giants to a 6-3 victory over the Lake Elsinore Storm. Every Giants starter had at least one hit in their 13-hit game. San Jose has won five out of their last six games with a 9-3 overall record.

After the game, Sandoval bought dinner for whole clubhouse, arranging for a local Italian restaurant to have the food delivered. Omar Vizquel had done the same thing when he was down in San Jose rehabbing an injury, and Sandoval, a player on the San Jose Giants at the time, never forgot it. Emmanuel Burriss did it once last season, too.

“Classy thing to do, for those guys to go down there,” Giants exec Bobby Evans said when I ran into him yesterday. “It says something about the San Jose Giants that these guys will go down there on their day off to watch them.”

Sandoval, actually, hadn’t planned on attending the game. He drove down to San Jose to visit with the family who had hosted him during his playing days there. “Seeing them made me want to go to the stadium and watch the game,” Sandoval said.

Hinshaw and Martinez also visited with their host families. Hinshaw lived with a family named the Hoos, and when Tim Lincecum was drafted in 2006 and sent to San Jose, he ended up also living with the Hoos.

“We’ve kept in touch and it was great to be down there and see everybody again,” Hinshaw said.

As an added bonus, Hinshaw and Martinez got to see Sandoval play Smash for Cash, a contest in which fans throw baseballs and try to smash the headlights on a truck that has been driven onto the field.

“He went down there with his man-purse – we give him a hard time about his man-purse,” Hinshaw said. “He hit the lights but didn’t break anything.”

Joe Martinez, Pablo Sandoval, and Alex Hinshaw at the San Jose Giants game, Monday, April 20, 2009:

Joe Martinez, Pablo Sandoval and Alex Hinshaw at Municipal Stadium 4.20.09.JPG

Best Seat in the House – the Dugout Rail

Here’s the scene.

Gorgeous day. Blue sky. High sixties, low seventies maybe. Sunny, but just enough leftover winter to need a jacket in the shade.

Scottsdale Stadium at 10 a.m.

The field is scattered with players and ball machines and screens.

Brian Sabean and Felipe Alou are on the top step of the dugout, leaning on the railing, silent, their eyes taking in the smallest details about this player or that one, bits and pieces of information to be filed away in their baseball brains for later analysis. Bobby Evans joins them. Then Larry Baer. A couple of equipment guys. A few reporters.

We look like railbirds at the racetrack.

On the field, coach Fred Stanley is hitting grounders to third base. Sandoval, Guzman, Gillaspie, Rohlinger, Uribe, Aurilia – they take turns scooping and throwing to first. Scoop and throw. Scoop and throw.

Each throw seems barely to miss coach Ron Wotus, who is standing a few feet behind the pitcher’s mound, tossing soft grounders to three players taking turns at shortstop. They field the ball and throw to second. Another group of players, lined up at second, take turns catching the throw, pivoting and firing to first.

Except it’s not really first base. That has already been claimed by the guys participating in the third-base drill. The second basemen throw to coach Roberto Kelly, who stands in the baseline between first and second. There is a screen behind him to keep errant throws from beaning the coach playing first.

In the outfield, a ball machine shoots fly balls from the right-field line to players spread out in center field. They practice calling for the ball.

“Gottit! Gottit! Gottit!” each one yells as he settles under the ball.

Scoop, throw, pivot, fire, gottit, gottit.

Over and over at all three stations.

They’re the same drills you see in Little League. The same drills, probably, players have done for a hundred years, minus the ball machines.

“Doesn’t even look like he’s moving,” one of the equipment guys says of Fred Lewis, chasing down a ball by the far fence. “He just glides across the field.”

I ask Bobby Evans what he looks for this early in the spring.

“You look at the crispness,” he says. “This early on, that stands out. If you can make the play over and over. If you have the range and footwork.”

He’s not paying much attention to hitting yet. The players just started with live pitching yesterday. But he watches the pitchers, who have been in camp almost a week. “You look to see how well they’re able to repeat their delivery. Finding that arm slot.”

Only a smattering of people watch from the stands. I’m not sure why more people don’t come down to this portion of spring training, before the games. You get to see all the players on the field simultaneously. No one’s in the dugout. You see non-stop action. And it’s free. And you can spread out across three seats, like the old days.

Larry Baer recognizes the pleasure of just watching the players practice. So this year, the Giants plan to open the doors to spring training games about 30 minutes earlier than usual so fans can watch more batting practice and fielding drills.

I was laid up yesterday with a bad cold and couldn’t make it to the ballpark. Something’s going around because today the team sent seven players home from practice for the same reason. Happens every spring.

Fred Lewis is still waiting for his special spikes from Nike. After his bunion problems last season, he flew up to Nike in Oregon in December and his feet were measured by some special computerized system. He needs his spikes to be a little wider than usual to reduce the risk of further bunions. Until the new custom shoes arrive, Lewis wears his old spikes to take fielding, then switches to tennis shoes for hitting and conditioning.

More tomorrow.

Whats in a Number?

Sandoval
A bunch of younger Giants — including Burriss, Sandoval, Hinshaw, Romo, Villalona and Velez — started three weeks of conditioning camp in Arizona today. All played winter ball, had a few weeks off and now are back to work. It’s the Giants second conditioning camp of the off-season (the first took place in late November), each with a different group of 20 or so players.

I talked today with Bobby Evans, director of player personnel, because I wanted to figure out how to interpret the players’ winter-league stats. What did Evans see when he read them? What was meaningful and what wasn’t?

“First, I want to make sure a guy’s playing,” Evans said. Sometimes, he said, a manager will sit a player for a variety of reasons. Last year, for instance, Merkin Valdez barely threw at all in the Dominican League, much to the frustration of Valdez and the Giants.

“So the stats are secondary to the opportunity simply to play,” Evans said.

And the stats, Evans has learned, must be taken with a grain of salt. You have to take into account the make-up of the team, the competitiveness of the league, the environment of the club.

“Although success in any form is still success,” he said.

Kevin Frandsen, coming off last year’s season-long injury, hit .331 and stole 10 bases in the Arizona fall league. “He proved to us, and to himself, that he has his feet back under him,” Evans said. “He played aggressive baseball from both sides of second base and with the bat.”

Winter ball isn’t great for everyone, though. Some young players, especially young pitchers, can do more harm than good by playing year-round. They’re not accustomed yet to putting their bodies through so many innings, so Evans and the Giants would rather they take some time off. But some minor-leaguers, struggling to make ends meet, want to pick up a little extra cash.

Winter ball is most useful, Evans said, for rehabbing players and for those who have had a taste of Triple A or the major leagues and need to sharpen their skills. He recalled one pitcher – not with the Giants — who threw nothing but fastballs all winter – something he couldn’t do in spring training, no matter how determined he was to improve that particular pitch. Playing in the competitive environment of the Dominican, Puerto Rican or Venezuelan league also helps young players grow up a little bit and can give them an edge over their less-seasoned rivals.

“It can be a very strategic opportunity for them,” Evans said.

This winter’s only disappointment, if it can be called that, is that Sandoval didn’t play as much third-base as the Giants would have liked to prepare him for becoming the team’s starter. But he hit .396 with 12 home runs in 192 at-bats.

The winter stats might not mean much, but when I see a BA just shy of .400, from a guy who was hitting the cover off the ball in September, I don’t care if he’s been playing on a sandlot or Yankee Stadium. The number alone is enough to get me counting the days until Opening Day.

2008-09 Winter League Stats.xls

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