Thanks to new MLB rules, Giants focused on the running game in spring training

Why Giants are so focused on running game in spring training originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Michael Conforto hit a flyball to the right last Wednesday and watched Bryce Johnson jog home from third place to go for a run. When Conforto returned to the dugout at Scottsdale Stadium, a host of teammates and coaches high-fived in anticipation of a productive plate performance. He tried to draw attention to something else.

“He was like, ‘This guy just put down a bunt, scored the second, the third and a goal,'” manager Gabe Kapler said the next morning. “‘All I did was get the ball in the air.’ “

Johnson’s sequence, which began with a perfect bunt on the third baseline, would have been out of place for the Giants in recent seasons. It might still be the case in 2023, but the game is changing, and the Giants know they need to change with it.

They have 21 stolen bases in 25 attempts this spring, and Kapler often speaks of standout players playing first through third or moving up. It’s one of those things he likes Blake Sabolwho is one of the more athletic players the Giants have ever crouched.

A lot of it is feather noise, but the Giants Do expect to run more, in part because they expect everyone to run more. While Pitch Clock gets the most For the sake of attention, Major League Baseball has also made the bases slightly larger – from 15 square inches to 18 square inches, making travel between pockets a bit shorter – and limiting the number of times a pitcher can throw over. A third unsuccessful roll to the first now results in a block.

“I think stolen bases will increase across the league,” Kapler said, “and I think we’ll be more aggressive when it comes to stealing bases ourselves.”

There are a few key caveats here, starting with the reality of the roster.

It’s nice that Sabol and Joey Bart are going well for Catcher, but it’s not ideal that they’re two of the faster players in the lineup. According to Baseball Savant, the Giants only have three predicted regulars (Thairo Estrada, Austin Slater, and Bart) who sprint faster than the league average. Some of their slower players from last season (Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Tommy La Stella) are gone, but they still expect to have one of the slowest rosters in the big leagues, if not the slowest.

Johnson has a league-high seven stolen bases this spring but isn’t on the 40-man and is almost certainly heading for Triple-A. The only other players with multiple steals are Slater and Heliot Ramos, who are already optioned.

However, Slater is an example of where the Giants could make a step forward this season. Kapler said he expects all players to be a bit more aggressive, but they don’t constantly send guys like Brandon Crawford and Wilmer Flores just because the rules are more advantageous. Slater has 43 stolen bases in 47 career attempts and could be pushing for his first 20-steal season if he stays healthy. Estrada nicked 21 bags last season and hopes to build on that.

The Giants are somewhat limited by what they currently have in the roster, but there’s no doubt they’re hoping for a faster future. On a recent morning, all the TVs in the clubhouse were showing colorful singles on a loop. Kapler said he constantly reminds players like Johnson and potential nominee Grant McCray that their speed can be a game changer.

“I tell Grant McCray every time he comes here, you’re a good baseball player, you have power, but you have this other gift that very few people in our organization have, and that’s hand-eye coordination, “You’re as fast as almost everyone in our organization and have this base stealing tool that can be like an extra base hit power to another player,” Kapler said. “Another player needs to get up Leaving doubles and triples – and of course Grant can do that too – but the ability to steal and steal a base will, I think, be appreciated more and more.”

It hasn’t escaped the organization that rival Los Angles Dodgers have tried to exercise even more than usual, including Steven Duggar and Bradley Zimmer, who brought them to camp. The Giants’ highest hopes can be seen on their top prospect list.

McCray stole 43 bases last season and should start this season in High-A. Vaun Brown was 44-50 and will start the season with Double-A Richmond. The new rules could bring more benefits to those players, and Kapler said staff will rate others – like Johnson – slightly differently as well, given the increased emphasis on speed and athleticism throughout the game.

There will soon come a day when the Giants aren’t so sluggish, but for now, they’re focused on the other part of it all. Sure, they’ll run more, but they’ll care more about keeping others from running over them. Kapler raised the young Arizona Diamondbacks as a team that could go wild with the new rules this year. The Giants have spent a lot of time this spring working on downed drills and throwing to bases in hopes they can limit faster teams looking to take off under the new rules.

“I don’t know if it’s that easy since they’re 4 1/2 inches closer and so in all these bang-bang games the baserunner is safe,” Kapler said. “I’m not sure if it’s that simple, but it might be a little bit because of that. And I think teams recognize that and they also think the exit stuff can be a real deterrent.”

The expectation is that the game will look a little more dated, with pickoffs brought back, as pitchers can only throw at bases twice and catchers get more involved. The Giants have repeatedly picked back this spring, with Bart being particularly aggressive in throwing after runners who have taken big leads. In a recent game, Bart threw a runner early and potential Patrick Bailey attempted to pick back a runner at second base in the ninth inning. Kapler was delighted.

“You won’t be looking for leaderboards for back picks, but we definitely pick more than most,” Kapler said. “We see running game control as part of the pitcher’s responsibility, part of the catcher’s responsibility, and we need to look for new ways to control the running game because we believe running play is going to become more important across the league. “

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This could all be a net negative for the Giants. They expect to run more, but they’re still not a fast team. So unless they’re better at stopping others, they’ll likely lose a little more ground to younger teams like the Diamondbacks. The goal is to limit this and take advantage when and where they can. That’s what the 2023 game will demand.

“It’s consistent with what Major League Baseball is basically sharing with anyone who’s going to listen,” Kapler said. “Fans appreciate action and appreciate some of those little events that happen faster. All of these new things that are happening in baseball are geared towards getting that result.”

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