Results tagged ‘ John Bowker ’
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
“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,”
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
“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
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
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
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.
When I arrived at the indoor batting cage earlier today, new Giants hitting coach Bam-Bam Meulens was feeding baseballs into a pitching machine, one after another, sending fastballs and curveballs hurtling toward John Bowker. Nate Schierholtz, one of Meulens’ other pupils, watched from a folding chair behind the plate, protected by netting that enclosed the space like a soft box.
“Good separation and balance,” Meulens said when Bowker crushed a pitch. “Nice.”
The two players were in shorts and T-shirts and drenched in sweat as they took turns at the plate. Bowker was working, at the moment, on letting the ball get deeper through the strike zone and hitting it to the opposite field. I knew they had arrived at 9 and assumed they had been hacking at balls most of the morning.
“Actually, we haven’t been in the cage all that long,” Schierholtz said.
Instead, it turns out, Meulens’ weeklong hitting clinic began this morning with one-on-one conversations with each player – Bowker and Schierholtz, plus Travis Ishikawa and minor-leaguer Brett Pill, who had already left by the time I arrived around 11:30.
Meulens is a big believer in understanding his players’ minds as well as their mechanics. He asked them how they felt their season went, where they thought they needed to improve, how they approach the game. He spent 45 minutes just with Ishikawa, trying to learn how he thinks and what he knows.
“All of that helps me to be a better teacher to them,” Meulens said later.
He wants to shift the attitude of players who blame their poor performance on not playing regularly. “The guy who writes out the lineup card doesn’t care if you need 300 at-bats to get comfortable,” he said. “Don’t complain about not playing enough. I want to eliminate that totally.”
And he wants to fine-tune their mental approach so they are prepared for every pitch in every at-bat. “That’s critical – you’ve got to have a plan to attack every pitcher. You have to know how he got you out before, or if you’ve had success, how he’s going to try to do different stuff.”
He’d like to see more of what the Giants did against Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies on September 15. Giants batters were instructed not to swing until they had a strike. Jimenez needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning and had thrown close to 90 pitches before he was pulled in the third inning.
“When you take pitches early in the game, you get to see what pitches are working for (the opposing pitcher) and which ones aren’t. And you let the guys behind you see more pitches,” he said.
Schierholtz leaves Tuesday for winter ball in Puerto Rico. On Saturday, Meulens will fly down to Venezuela with Bowker and Pill and get them settled onto their winter teams there. He’ll stop in Puerto Rico on the way home to check in on Schierholtz.
Giants batting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens is wasting no time diving into his new job. He has gathered John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz and minor-league first baseman Brett Pill for a six-day hitting clinic at AT&T starting on Monday. Then he’ll fly down to Venezuela with Bowker, who will play winter ball in that country’s extremely competitive league. Schierholtz is going to Puerto Rico. (I’m not sure yet what the other two are doing.)
I’ll try to grab some time with Meulens during a break in the action on Monday and share what I learn.
I’m going down to Arizona on Tuesday with some of the video guys from the Giants. We’ll be checking in with Pablo Sandoval, who is in the midst of his own personal conditioning camp with team trainers.
Pablo ended his spectacular season with the second-best batting average in the National League (.330), 3rd in doubles (44), 4th in hits (189), 6th in total bases (318) and slugging percentage (.556), 7th in extra base hits (74). But he wants to get better, so he has committed himself not only to developing a new regimen of physical exercise but also to learning how to eat healthy. He also wants to work on improving his English pronunciations and educate himself about Facebook and blogging – all for the purpose of communicating and connecting more with the fans.
Got a text-message from Tim Lincecum earlier this week. He’s in Seattle right now visiting family but will be back in SF next week and will stay through the winter. He, too, is developing a workout regimen to get even stronger. He seems to be all-muscle already – his percentage of body fat has got to be almost zero. So I’m not sure what exactly he wants to improve. I hope to chat with him when he’s back in town and will let you know.
The Giants held a three-hour meeting Wednesday of the entire staff. They went over highlights of the 2009 season and laid out plans and goals for 2010. (Orange Fridays are coming back!) There was particular focus, as you might imagine, on improving offensive production, including a better on-base percentage and a more consistent one-through-five batting lineup. Brian Sabean’s staff talked of identifying possible trades or free-agent signings. Any trade, managing general partner Bill Neukom explained, would have to meeting the following criteria:
· Does this player significantly improve the team’s win-loss record?
· How much money will he cost?
· How much talent do the Giants give up for him?
· Does this player’s arrival thwart the progress of a top homegrown prospect?
· Does this player fit in with the team chemistry?
What struck me most, though, in the meeting was how much was accomplished in 2009 – and what a great foundation it provides for next season and beyond.
Some 2009 facts that stand out:
· Best home record in the NL and improved overall record by 16 wins over 2008.
· Best starting rotation in baseball (fewest runs allowed, most shutouts and most strikeouts). Lincecum led the league in strikeouts for the second consecutive year, was the 2009 All-Star Game starting pitcher and again was named NL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year.
· Bullpen strength: Jeremy Affeldt led the NL in holds (33) and Brian Wilson tied for third in the NL in saves (38).
· Great team chemistry: This team – in particular, the relatively unknown group of young players — won the hearts of the fans. And they did so by working hard day in and day out and playing with excitement and energy. As a result, Giants’ attendance stayed nearly the same this year from last year – even in a down economy — and the team set record television ratings (up 37 percent on Comcast over 2008). The veterans were fantastic with the young guys – everyone from Randy Johnson to Edgar Renteria to Juan Uribe stepped up as unofficial mentors and teachers.
· The deepening pool of emergent talent: Five of the Giants’ seven minor-league teams reached the championship game in their respective leagues (three teams won championships). The Giants’ affiliates combined for the best record among all major-league organizations. Catcher Buster Posey was named Topps/Minor League Player of the Year. Others, such as Madison Bumgarner, Roger Kieschnick and Brandon Crawford, established themselves as exceptional prospects. This is a great sign that the Giants’ investment in the farm system is paying off.
· Valuable late-season experience: Playing meaningful baseball in September gave younger players a foundation on which they can build in the seasons to come.
Here’s something else from the meeting that I loved, though it has nothing to do with baseball. The Giants made a real commitment to making AT&T the greenest ballpark in the country. In 2008, it managed to recycle 40 percent of all the garbage and other waste. In 2009, it recycled 67 percent. Pretty amazing.
More next week.