Giants hitting coach Viele's meteoric rise continues to pay off


When the Baltimore Orioles released a young infielder named Justin Viele on the last day of spring training in 2015, they didn't fully part ways. They offered him a chance to stay with the organization as a coach. A few months later, Santa Clara University hired Viele, and in a press release to announce the move, one of their assistant coaches noted that coaching "is what he was built to do."

Four years after that, Gabe Kapler shocked the industry by hiring the youngest coaching staff in baseball, which included a 29-year-old co-hitting coach. 

A lot of people with a lot of experience in the game have always believed in Viele's ability to make an impact behind the scenes. But as he sat in the dugout at Oracle Park recently and discussed a meteoric rise through the ranks, he admitted it's a position he never saw for himself. 

"I'm sure a lot of coaches thought I would be a coach. I always thought I was going to be a player," Viele said on this week's Giants Talk Podcast. "I thought that until the day I was released, that I was going to be a player. I didn't really ever see myself as a coach, honestly. I didn't want to see it, because when you're in the mode of playing you just want to be playing. Yeah, life happens, and then once I got into coaching I was like, 'Oh yeah, this is what I was supposed to do.'"

Viele has proven that at every stop, including three years on Kapler's big league staff. A year after leading the NL in home runs, the Giants are doing things a slightly different way but still finding results. They are second in the National League in runs and third in wRC+ despite six weeks of injuries and positive COVID-19 tests that robbed the roster of depth.

This is exactly what Kapler expected in 2019 when he hired Donnie Ecker away from the Cincinnati Reds, Dustin Lind from the Seattle Mariners, and Viele from the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he was a minor league hitting coordinator without full-season experience above A-ball. 

There are a lot of stories of unique paths on Kapler's staff, but few made the leap to a prominent role as quickly as Viele. He is young enough to have been Mike Yastrzemski's road roommate in the minors with the Orioles, and when he was taking the train from Santa Clara -- where he was the starting shortstop for four years -- to Oracle Park to watch a few games a season in the bleachers, the roster included players he would ultimately coach.

Viele returned to Santa Clara in 2015 and two years later joined the Dodgers as a rookie ball hitting coach. Their general manager at the time was Farhan Zaidi and their director of player development was Kapler, who never forgot the creativity and preparation he saw from a young coach finding his way and learning with every BP session or spray chart that this is what he was meant to do. 

Viele was at a hitting conference in Fort Lauderdale at the start of the 2019 offseason when he looked down and saw an incoming call from Kapler. He wanted to interview Viele to join his staff, and he sent him a detailed questionnaire to start the process. 

"I missed the entire conference because I was doing the questionnaire in my hotel room," Viele said, smiling. "One hundred percent worth it, obviously."

The same has been true for the Giants. They have had a top-five offense in baseball since a new hitting group took over in 2020, and they haven't missed a beat with Ecker in Arlington. Viele and Lind have been joined by Pedro Guerrero, who knew Kapler from Philadelphia, and the offense has continued to chug along. 

Viele is 31 now, but still younger than most of the hitters he works with. He initially had to win their trust, and he said his focus early on was simply to listen, to let veterans know he was a "baseball guy" first and foremost, and that he wasn't coming in with massive changes prescribed by a laptop. 

The tweaks have been subtle and individualized. Asked what the secret sauce has been in the hitting cage at Oracle Park, Viele makes it all sound relatively simple, even if it's not. 

RELATED: Giants getting plenty of production from bottom of lineup

"I think we try to let players dictate our philosophy and our teaching," he said. "A Thairo Estrada is going to come in and he's going to have different needs than Curt Casali. It's not cookie-cutter. We try to identify every advantage we can give each player and that's different player to player. It would be unfair to cookie-cut things and I think we individualize things very well. I think our preparation is very formal but also really informal.

"The cage is a place that we want guys to come down and have a good time, but also learn. It's not that they come down there and it's, like, work, work, work, work, work -- we have an unbelievable time in the cage. Our hitters meetings are fun and informative. I don't know if we could really pinpoint anything specifically. It's just, create a good environment, let the players kind of dictate what we're trying to help them with and what they need and enjoy each day and take every single day like it's the last game we have. All we're trying to do every single day is show up, prepare and win."

Download and follow the Giants Talk Podcast

Contact Us