Why Giants hired ‘player development' coaches for Gabe Kapler's staff


SAN DIEGO -- There are a lot of words that you can use to describe Gabe Kapler's new coaching staff

The group is young and relatively inexperienced, but also very smart, according to other coaches and players around the game familiar with the hires the Giants announced Wednesday. They are known to be hard-working, with almost all of them possessing a background in analytics or biomechanics or both. 

Kapler didn't want to put one label on the group while describing his staff, but if they had to, Giants executives would give you one phrase, which is permeating every level of the organization: Player development.

That has long been the focus at the minor league level and now will be the theme in the big leagues. Farhan Zaidi said part of the consideration in putting together a new staff was the desire to move top prospects quickly and have them develop in part at the big league level. But it goes deeper than that. Kapler has said repeatedly this week that player development needs to continue throughout your career, and the Giants will need more out of their core players if they want to be competitive next season.

On Wednesday, Zaidi, Kapler and Scott Harris announced eight new coaches, the oldest of whom is 38-year-old Brian Bannister. A lot of the focus will be on their youth, but Kapler said the focus should be on what the young staff can do for older players but also young prospects. 

"I think that there's a trend in Major League Baseball to hire outside of a pool that has been producing coaches for a really long time," Kapler said. "The Yankees are a really good example of that. Their recent pitching coach hire, Matt Blake -- they hired a Major League pitching coach without much Major League experience to coach a pretty expensive pitching staff. I think there's a trend in baseball to be a little bit more open-minded about who is the best person to lead and develop baseball players. 

"Player development continuing at the Major League level is a theme that we're seeing around baseball right now and I think we're all heavily invested in."

The Giants have a big staff -- Ron Wotus is joining the eight new hires -- and are not done. Kapler will still hire a first base coach who will handle outfield and baserunning coaching. He also might add a quality assurance coach, and that's a job that nearly went in a historic direction. That person will be in the clubhouse during games. 

Kapler said at least one of those two additional coaches will be a native Spanish speaker. He also needs to hire a video replay staff, and he said he has spoken to Shawon Dunston, the incumbent. It's unclear where that process stands. 

What is clear is that this is the Player Development Era in San Francisco. The Giants have not yet spent more than $9 million on a free agent over the past two offseasons, and top prospects like Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos could arrive next season. They are overhauling their minor league facility, so the new staff will have a much more advanced facility in the offseason. 

For now, they're headed to Oracle Park as relative unknowns. Here's what you should know about a group that will try to lead the Giants back to prominence:

Hitting coaches

Donnie Ecker, 33, and Justin Viele, 29, will be the hitting coaches, with neither having a higher title than the other. The Giants have also hired Dustin Lind, a 31-year-old who will be Director of Hitting. 

Ecker is the most well-known of the group and was the assistant hitting coach in Cincinnati last year. Their manager, David Bell, called Ecker "brilliant" and a "difference-maker." The Reds didn't want to let him go, but they felt they had to do the right thing for Ecker, a Los Altos High alum who is coming home. 

Ecker will work with Viele, who comes over from the Dodgers,where he was at Low-A ball last season. Viele, a former minor league teammate of Mike Yastrzemski, spent three seasons with the Dodgers. This might have been the most aggressive promotion of the bunch, but Kapler knew him from his time with the Dodgers and felt strongly about his skills. 

Lind spent two seasons with the Mariners and was their director of hitting development last year. He has a doctorate in physical therapy and will be one of the additions who is particularly adept at using biomechanics and body movement to make adjustments for players. 

Pitching coaches

Compared to the hitting side, these guys are veterans. Bailey, 35, comes over after two seasons with the Angels, who were worried that they would lose him. The Giants interviewed double-digit candidates and settled on Bailey, who was drafted by Zaidi in Oakland. He'll be assisted by 36-year-old Ethan Katz and Bannister will serve as Director of Pitching. Craig Albernaz, 37, will be the bullpen coach. 

Bailey was a two-time All-Star and had 95 big league saves while pitching for the A's, Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Angels. In Los Angeles, he was the bullpen coach and also had a stint as a video replay coordinator.

"A guy that I was part of drafting in Oakland is now going to be a coach at the Major League level," Zaidi said, smiling. "Even as a player (he was) super bright, motivated, a leader. He was a starting pitcher when he was drafted and he moved to the bullpen and he was a big driver of that, understanding what he did well and being able to leverage his skills. He was very self-aware in that transition. He's a guy that I've kind of watched his career and always thought that at the right time -- when he was ready and had the requisite experience -- that he could be a really impactful pitching coach someday."

Katz is actually a holdover, having spent 2019 as the organization's assistant pitching coordinator in the minor leagues. He worked for the Angels and Mariners before that and also spent time at Harvard-Westlake High in Southern California, where he helped coach Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito and Max Fried. 

Bannister had been with the Red Sox and was assistant pitching coach and VP of pitching development last season. The Red Sox spent years turning back teams that wanted to hire him away, but their new regime allowed Bannister to come back to California and be closer to his family. Bannister has more big league experience than most on the list, having pitched for five seasons. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007.

Albernaz was working in the minors for the Rays last season. He spent eight of his nine professional seasons with the Rays and reached Triple-A. 

Bench coach

By now you might have noticed that the Giants added a lot of coaches. They can only have seven in the dugout during games, but they are allowed to change the group before games if they notify MLB. Kai Correa won't be moving around, though. 

Correa's name leaked early and the Hawaii native has been known to be part of Kapler's staff throughout the Winter Meetings. But while most thought he would be first base coach, Correa actually will take over for Hensley Meulens, the former bench coach who now has that role with the Mets. Correa, who came over from the Indians, is known as a gifted infield coach and he'll have those responsibilities in San Francisco, but the 31-year-old will also be next to Kapler now, helping with in-game strategy. Ron Wotus, a longtime big league bench coach, will also help when the Giants are not at the plate.

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"This is a good time to point out the diversity of thought and how valuable that is, and how I saw some of that in Philadelphia in Rob Thomson," Kapler said. "(He) was very traditional and brought so much to the table and it was good because he and I had different ways of thinking about the game and we had really healthy debates on the bench and I think that's going to be true having Kai thinking about things like defensive positioning. He has a lot of experience coaching, it's just non-traditional."

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