This spring, SFDugout.com sat down with Jack Hiatt, the Director of Player Development for the San Francisco Giants. He graciously took the time to answer a wide range of questions about the Giants' farm system, and how things will look this year. Our discussion with him will be published in three parts over the next week.
(Interview Conducted on March 14th)
SFDugout.com: The first thing to ask about is the new minor league complex. What has that done for you?
Jack Hiatt: I've been here 20 years, and we are just ecstatic. I never dreamed that it would come to be this beautiful. We always hoped it would. They found a way to give us a facility that our players were worthy of.
It's been kind of tough, going to these other, newer facilities when we had the same old one for all these years, and the players would often remark ‘What have we done wrong?' And you haven't done anything wrong, we'll catch up one day. And it finally happened. But the weight room, the luxuries of having so much room, the exclusivity of having our own complex, the luxury of huge locker rooms for our players, the playing surface is being updated and kept up in a marvelous, major league condition. All the kids are in awe, and those that have been here prior, they're thrilled to death. And it's just made this spring different. Everyone has a different attitude, a different approach, and it's fun to come out here. The players come out earlier, they even stay later compared to the way it used. It's a pleasure to come out to this facility to do their work, and that helps all of us.
SFDugout.com: Oh yea, I bet it does. So whose idea was it to make one of the fields into a fake AT&T Park?
Hiatt: Well, I wish I could say it was me, but I think that's Alan Lee and Bobby Evans, and the people that were in charge of the final dimensions of all our diamonds. And what a marvelous idea that was. To learn how to play the nuances of our stadium, and to have an opportunity to do it in programs like this and instructional leagues. So every kid will get a chance on that facility out here, and they won't be shocked or taken aback by when they go to play in San Francisco for our big club. It's a great idea. It's kind of a unique thing, and all the guys want to play on it, just to say. Some of them, unfortunately, that's the only time they'll get a chance to play on a facility like that, so it's very, very nice.
SFDugout.com: Do you know if any players have taken to really try and swing for that short right field fence?
Hiatt: I'm watching these inter-squad games we've had, today's the first outside competition, but we've played 4 inter-squad games plus two with the mini-camp that came earlier, and all the guys enjoyed taking a shot at that thing. We've had a couple of home runs go out. There'll be more. That deep 421 out there in that corner is seeing a lot of balls go out there, which stresses the relays, and that is huge. That's the biggest part of the game, the biggest mistakes you'll see at the minor league level is relays and cutoffs, and baserunning. Those are the two things that usually bloom last for a player. They all learn how to field the ball, and how to throw a curveball. They all learn, all the pitchers and the position players learn how to swing the bat. But how do I score? You have to run the bases properly, and you have to learn how to hit the cutoff man. More games are lost at the major league level to a silly mistake like that, they missed the cutoff man and it allows an extra man to score. It never makes ESPN, but all of us in baseball make heavy note of that. It should run perfect. So this gives us a chance to do that, and that's probably one of the best things about that field, is learning how to work out of that deep corner, getting that ball back in.
SFDugout.com: One last question about the facility. I've been talking to a couple of the fans, they love the facility, but there's been some notes that some of the concessions for the fans have been taken away. They used to sell water outside, and they used to have seats closer to the field. Was any of that a consideration in the design.
Hiatt: We tried to get that put in, we would have loved to have had bleachers, not only for our fans, I'm talking the concrete bleachers that are aesthetically as beautiful as this complex is being put in there, an amphitheater approach on both fields one and two. But there just wasn't enough land, and there wasn't enough, probably, money, to accommodate that.
Not only for the fans, but for scouts and our own players that are charting these games and using the gun, which you see in all the facilities around this area. There's just no area to put the people. Technically, I guess, it's not fan friendly. I guess, possibly the thought that this is a spring training for a minor league level, who's going to come over and watch us? Well, there are a lot of people who would like to watch us. Maybe one day we can approach this in a harder manner, and be able to put something up that we can be proud of. But not something junky, something very nice that will accommodate the fans. Technically, only press, only family are allowed out here. That's it, that's the approach the Giants are taking on as far as security. So local people just can't come wandering in. They have to stay behind that gated fence out there. If they stay out there, then they can watch the ballgames. But in here, technically it's a security breach. But I often thought that these people, in Scottsdale, that forked out $21.2 million for this complex and some upgrades to the stadium, they certainly should have the right to be able to come out and watch a ballgame. But that wasn't one of the primary things they wanted to work with.
We wanted to, it just didn't happen.
SFDugout.com: Quick clarification on your first answer – You said ‘They' found a way to make it work here. By ‘they' do you mean the Giants or the city of Scottsdale?
Hiatt: Um, it's the city of Scottsdale, and the designer HOK.
You know, this is a flood plain. I think this needs to be noted right here before I say something I shouldn't. But it is in a flood plain. No permanent structure is supposed to be out there. No permanent structure. All these fences, all these light standards, all these poles, all these nettings, if there is a flood, they are to give away. That's what was so expensive, they're all on a giveaway type of construction. So the water can flow through here, which has happened one time, in 1987. There was a flood that went from the bottom right here all the way to that fence across the street. Solid, solid water roaring through here that wiped out this complex. And it was dams that are north of here that had to let water loose. And it was an unusual year, they say the one in one hundred year flood. That's what this is. The Corps of Engineers has labeled this whole area through here, it goes all the way up through Scottsdale, a flood control. And that was the only land they could find, because of land value here, that would work for us.
So all of this stuff, that's all temporary out there. Everything you see can break away and allow the water to flow. Therefore, grandstands, permanent structures, amphitheaters, that would stop the water from the flow. No can do. So we're look at other ways. Like that area where the picnic tables are, put some grandstands in there. Something like that where you can observe a ballgame.
SFDugout.com: And there's some great views up there of both the fields.
Hiatt: Really. I've even really thought about, we should go upstairs, and put in some viewing areas upstairs, where people can sit up and overlook both fields. That would be nice. We sit up, the staff that evaluate, Brian, Dick and I, we sit up there in that tower and watch the kids play. We can see both games at the same time. But maybe something with shade upstairs where we could look down and watch it. Somehow we've got to do something to help the fans, and I agree, it's not up to par. Neither is this little grandstand here that's blocking everyone's way. Players've got to walk through there, and it's kind of tough. So I don't know what the answer is, it's so brand new to us, we're just trying to figure out what we can do next to make it better.
SFDugout.com: Okay, well, why don't we start talking about the players?
SFDugout.com: How do you think the Giants system looks this year as compared to previous seasons?
Hiatt: Well, we're heavily laden at the bottom of our organization. The last two drafts have particularly been outstanding. You know the loss of #1 and high draft choices in the past due to free agency, every time we sign a guy for big money we lose a draft, that has hurt us. It's hurt us. At the Triple-A, Double-A level we should hopefully have some people who are starting to do some things that could play for our big club. Cain was the last #1 [to make an impact] before Lincecum. Well Matt Cain has delivered. Lincecum is going to deliver. In-between there's some vacant holes there. 1-2-3 draft choices we didn't have. So now, these last two years, we have accumulated some good looking players. We were still, I think, 5th in baseball in winning percentage, so the kids know how to win. Our lower levels last year were fantastic. Our prospects at the lower levels were very good. Not to say there aren't a few sprinkled in at a higher level, but the bottom levels…the San Jose club this year, the Augusta club this year, some kids that are even left here in Arizona in the extended spring training, excellent players. We have tremendous depth in the outfield in particular. We have solidified the middle of the infield with some excellent young players like Burriss, and Bocock, and Schoop and these kids that can play shortstop. We got some good second baseman, Minicozzi, Maroul and Boyer, and third base with Rohlinger and some of the players coming along, I'm really pleased. But our outfield is just a glut of good-looking players, from Triple-A down. So that's our strength, outfield play.
So I am really pleased with what the future's going to look like for us. And then this draft, we have this marvelous chance, with the great drafts early, we can make hay. We can change the complexion of the organization very quickly. And I'm very hopeful that we're going to turn this thing around, and have more of a selection at the major league level than we have in the past.
SFDugout.com: Well, I guess that leads really well into my next question. Talking about the outfield depth, it seems that the majority of the hitting prospects at the higher level are outfielders such as Lewis and Schierholtz. The question is, with Winn and Roberts both signed through 2009, what is that going to mean for players like Schierholtz and EME, as we like to call him?
Hiatt: Well, you know, you could certainly have Winn and Roberts, you can also fill your organization up with good players you can trade and get something you need, or you can trade them and put our players in a position of value and get something back that way too. It's like, if you're a left fielder in this organization the last 10 years, there's no job up there. But it doesn't mean you're not a good player to be moved and dealt for something we need, a pitcher or a position player. So you can't really worry about it. You can't really have enough of anything, enough catching, enough shortstops, enough outfielders. And we have really bulked up on outfield play.
The only thing that bothers us sometimes is that they get really stacked up, in other words, there's no room to move. I mean, Schierholtz and Ortmeier are going back to Triple-A along with Lewis, that's a possibility, so that outfield is locked up and there's no room for some of the other guys to come along, the Clay Timpners and people like that. But we have such a marvelous selection of kids that are going to push these guys, they're just going to keep pushing. The Copelands, Richardsons, and Mooneys. Joey Dyche, and god, and this kid Simmons is terrific looking. Mike McBryde, there's nothing he can't do, he can fly and he's got a rifle. Felmy, excellent outfielder, excellent power and can throw. These guys are going to make an impact. If they can't help our big club, they can certainly be a part of something to help our big club.
SFDugout.com: Yea, I noticed that another of the young outfielders drafted last year, Matt Weston, working out at first base.
Hiatt: You know what? Dick Tidrow's got a good thought there. All left handed hitting and throwing outfielders should learn how to play first base. It just adds to your career, it adds to your value being able to play two positions. If you're left handed, you should be able to play first base. If you can run, it's a luxury, you're also an outfielder. So, you got a 25 man roster, if you've got a guy who can do more than one thing, it really helps. We're starting to do that with Matt, and we're starting to teach him how to play first base.
SFDugout.com: That leads well into a question about another outfielder, although he's not left handed, Eddy Martinez-Esteve. He's had shoulder problems the last couple of years. I saw him throwing yesterday, and he looked great, he looked very healthy. But there's been a lot of rumors that he might get moved to first base to help try and protect those shoulders. Is there anything you can say about the possibility of that?
Hiatt: Well, nothing's out of reason. But with Eddy, when his arm was tender, there was a thought about first base. Well, his arm is back. I've seen him playing the outfield before his injuries, and he was a better than adequate left fielder. Better than adequate. Probably a right fielder. Now he's in great shape, and he's healthy, and he's throwing well. There's no reason to make us think the outfield's not going to his place. ‘Cause this boy's going to hit, I can tell you that. He's probably our purest right-handed hitter in the organization. He's got a beautiful swing, and he can adjust to breaking balls. Despite the lack of playing time with injuries. This kid has had so many injuries that have cost him so many valuable at-bats. But he still has the confidence, and all the good ones do. It's like Barry. Barry can sit for three weeks, walk up and hit a ball nine miles. He has that ability. He's a good hitter, and all good hitters have that confidence. Will Clark's, they have that swagger to them.
He'll hit, and I like him in the outfield.
SFDugout.com: I have one other outfielder I wanted to ask about, Fred Lewis. Lewis is a speed guy, he can hit for average, he can get on base. It really seems like the kind of tools that would be appropriate for a center fielder, but the last couple of years he's played primarily in left field. Is there a reason for that?
Hiatt: He struggled somewhat in his Double-A year in center field, in a very spacious Norwich outfield. And having the pressure to play that huge outfield affected his bat somewhat. Because of that, we moved him to left field to see if it would help, and it turned his bat around, immediately. He was hovering at .210, and he was hitting .290 in no time. Because there was no pressure, he had less room to worry about, the game wasn't centered around his ability to catch a ball that was uncatchable. Now he's playing left field, and he has responded by swinging the bat well. So there's no reason to move him off. We've got center fielders, we just want him to hit. And whatever allows him to hit is what we to do for him.
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