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: Let's talk about the pitching. One of my personal favorite guys in the organization, Brian Anderson, really seems to defy convention because he does not have that blazing fastball. But he gets the strikeouts and he's been one of the most effective closers in the system. Do you see him being able to do that at the higher levels, and is there a chance he'll be in Fresno this year? (19:55)
Hiatt: I think what you do is you continue to push him until it doesn't work. There's been a lot of guys that come the pipe that don't throw hard, but he has tremendous command, he has great ability to move the ball in and out, offspeed, breaking balls. He has the ability to deceive the hitters, he has the ability to see the hitters, he watches them swing the bat, he makes adjustments to the hitters. A lot of guys never watch that. They have their mind made up with what they want to do with the ball, and they're not paying much attention to how the batters are reacting to their pitches. He does. He makes the pitches when he has to. You just keep letting this guy move up the line. Right now, he's probably scheduled to move to Double-A, but that does mean he won't end up in Fresno. Whether or not he'll close at a higher level, that'll also be where time will tell. We're very lucky to have him, he's done a great job for us.
SFDugout.com: About Eugenio Velez. He had that breakout year last year, but there were some publications that were a little hard on him for playing against much younger players in Augusta. Do you think that had a huge effect on his ability to play, and do you think he'll be able to hold up against competition closer to his age?
Hiatt: Well, he seemed to hit the better pitching in the Sally League better than the ordinary pitching. His ability to play second, we even looked at him in center in the instructional league, he looked great out there. So he can play second and center. He can fly, obviously, by stolen bases. He's got power. He's already shown in big league camp that he can do a lot of thing real well, and against big league pitching. How he got out there for us to get, I don't know. We've lost players, too, that have gone on to very nice things. It happens. Sometimes you get undervalued in a former organization, and that's exactly what we're looking for in this organization. That's what happened with him. He was consistent, he's smart, he plays the game well. With his tools being speed, playing second and maybe, possibly, center, this makes him a fabulous possible x-man at the big league level. As time passes, we'll see. He's a plus-plus for us.
I don't really pay much attention to age at a level. Certainly it didn't hurt it, but it wasn't enough for the other organization to not keep him. That's the thing. They had quit on him, I guess. We were lucky he was sitting there. And we got him, and he jumps all the way to the 40. It doesn't necessarily mean we're thin, it means this boy's ready to help a big league club.
SFDugout.com: Garrett Broshuis keeps a blog on FoxSports. He wrote in his last blog entry about a lot of new things are in the minor league system this year. And one of the most interesting ones was the incentive program to help Latin players really assimilate, and work more with American-born players, and so forth. Where did the idea for that come from, and how do you think that'll help young players, both American and Latin?
Hiatt: Well, where it originated from, I don't know, but it's been in our thoughts for a long time to have players take an interest in the latin players to help them in a tough transition from their home country to ours. The best teacher is for American players to go to Latin America. You want to feel like you're a fish out of water, go down there and don't speak fluent Spanish. And sometimes Spanish is different in different countries. Food, making adjustments…if it wasn't for a Latin player helping me when I played back there a long time ago, I would've been dead. Those guys really took good care of me. A lot of our players don't know what it's like for these boys. They're thousands of miles from home, they don't know how to order, they don't know how to speak English. Which we are now working very hard to have English classes, to teach them English and to help them with their transition to our country. To do these simplest things like order food, and how to get to the ballpark and back, and have more interaction between American players and Latin players to help one another. It probably feels to the American that it's one way. But until they've gone to Latin America, which a lot of these kids have all played winter ball in Latin America, they know how important it is to have someone help you. So, it's very important. I mean, sometimes these Latin kids feel like they're on an island of their own. And they're trying to exist on this island. And we have some people like Garrett that have a great heart. He feels for them. It appeals to him to be a part of helping these guys. I wish there were players like that. There are some, but not enough.
We insist upon respect. With Felipe Alou here and the respect he demands, that should rub all the way down to the last player.
SFDugout.com: That goes to the next guy I want to talk about, of course, Angel Villalona. How has he been doing with his transition? Especially at his age, it must be even tougher than it is for most Latin players.
Hiatt: Well, he was at our Instructional League, and he did marvelously. I was very proud with the way this boy fit in. He doesn't speak a word of English, and we're going to try to help him with that. At 16, everything is new and different to him. We are doing everything we can to try and make him comfortable. He came to spring training just a bit overweight, and we have worked very hard to get his weight down to where he could be a little more agile, and help him understand that baseball also is a demanding sport. You have to take care of your body so you can perform. All of this is brand new to this young man, and we're fathers, and trying to be mothers and fathers and everything to him at one time. His Latin friends have helped him tremendously. As a matter of fact, Burris took him in as a brother during Instructional League. Roomed with him, he took care of him, and he's also helped him this spring.
You know, he has such fabulous talent. I mean the kid can hit a ball further, at 16, than nine-tenths of the players on that field at 25. He's just a phenom. He's got a very good arm. He's got a chance to be a dandy. It's just gonna be rough on all of us getting him through this transition. He's homesick, he's 16! At 16, I still lived at home with mom and dad. He's away from home, in a strange country with a new language, and we're trying to make him comfortable. His performance on the field is secondary. It's getting him comfortable with baseball, understanding what he has to learn how to eat, learn how to order, and learn how to take care of himself in a foreign country, and then we can worry up the line about hitting a curveball. So we're going through that process. He's a wonderful kid, and we're very proud to have him.
SFDugout.com: I gotta admit, that sounds like such a great tease for the future, Burris and Villalona being great friends, and possibly in the future, the left side of the infield.
Hiatt: Yea, there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever. And he's been compared to the guy up in Seattle. [Adrian Beltre] He has fabulous power, this boy, and he's got a beautiful swing. So good things ahead for him, you know, but everyone's gotta be patient. Even him, cause I heard him in an interview say he'll be in the big leagues in 2 years. I don't think that's going to happen. Nothing surprises me anymore. The kid's a great hitter but I think time will tell. No big hurry.
SFDugout.com: That does bring up one question, because I heard Sabean mention Augusta for him, but it seems like, especially if we're talking about him being homesick and taking some time, maybe the Dominican Summer League might be a great place for him to start. Is there any insight you can give us on that?
Hiatt: There's a chance of that, but I think we're leaning a little heavier towards the extended program where the club is probably about 50% Latin. It's a brand of ball where they face their peers, a lot of teenagers in that league, in the extended program. There's guys rehabbing. The caliber of baseball is very loose. There's not emphasis. You can have as many visits to the mound as you want. You can roll the inning over if a pitcher gets beat up. There's a lot of marvelous things in that. And it's kind of low-key for his first everyday appearance in uniform for us. I think that would be marvelous for him. Then the Arizona League would be an excellent league for him. The problem is he'll have spring training here. He had a mini-camp, spring training, extended, Arizona League and he'll probably be back in instructional league. So we're talking about three quarters of a year he's right in this complex. And that can get boring, that can get old. There may be a chance we might move him up to an A-ball level so he can see games, put him in some ball games where he'll get nervous, but he gets to see crowds and lights and night ball. We're going to look very hard at that, to make sure he doesn't get bored because he's just a kid. To stick him out there with all the wolves would be kind of tough.
SFDugout.com: I guess around here it would be coyotes, right?
Hiatt: [laughs] That's right!
SFDugout.com: Let's talk about the other really exciting kid in the minors for the Giants, Tim Lincecum. There's little that can be asked that hasn't already been answered, but I would like to ask you one question. The debate continues to rage about whether or not his size is going to make him more likely to fall prey to injury in the future, and I'd like your thoughts on that.
Hiatt: Well, everyone has the chance to be injured, unfortunately. We're seeing that more and more. If he was to be hurt because of his size, he'd have been hurt already, pitching a full four seasons for Washington, and the amount of innings he clocked up there. He is a unique young man because of his size. He has the heart of a seven foot man, and his stuff is outstanding. Probably the best pitcher in the nation in college baseball, and we were lucky to get him only because they were afraid of his size. Size doesn't mean anything, that's about this game. I know they stereotype pitchers, they look at 6'3", 200, or 6'4", 200. That's the norm. But then there's people out of the norm. And if you ignore them, look out, it's a mistake. I think he's fine. I think he's going to be a dandy. I would not be surprised if he pitches in the big leagues this year. I hope he stays away from injuries, but you know, the most beautiful deliveries in the world end up getting hurt. Jesse Foppert. If you had told me he'd hurt his arm, I'd have said ‘No chance.' Beautiful delivery. Just like you draw it up for longevity. Nolan Ryan-type of a beautiful stroke. Not herky-jerky, but yet, he fell to an injury. So there's no projecting that. And let's just hope he never does, because he's a great kid.
SFDugout.com: I've got some injury questions here. How's Dan Griffin doing?
Hiatt: Dan Griffin's doing very well. He's throwing the ball harder than he did last year at this point of time, after his surgery. He's throwing strikes, he's even gotten bigger and stronger from last year, if that's possible. He's growing into being a man, and he is a force. He's got great stuff. He just needs to refine some breaking balls, but his velocity on his fastball is way up there, and we're looking for him to have a great year. Now he knows what to expect out of the Sally League. If he goes back, which he could, he'll know how to handle that. He's still a young man, experience-wise, he missed a good portion of last year to that injury. But he's throwing well, he's all the way back.
SFDugout.com: That's good to hear. What about Waldis Joaquin?
Hiatt: He hasn't thrown yet. He is on a schedule roughly around June to start throwing. So he's here in camp, but he is not throwing yet. We're a ways away with him. And he's a prospect, he's got a great arm.
SFDugout.com: Yea, a lot people are excited about him. I think a lot of people were a little disappointed, because they heard about Joaquin and Shairon Martis at about the same time, and a lot of people were disappointed about the Martis trade, but can't argue it didn't help the big league team for a couple of months. And it leads to a new draft pick.
Hiatt: Exactly. I think Martis kind of caught lightning in a bottle with that no-hitter in the World games. I'm not sure that the club he pitched against was totally into it, which can happen in those things. Get it over with, and let's get back to baseball. And I'm not trying to demean his performance, we were very proud of him. But, we saw his stuff, we've looked at him for two years, and it's not no-hitter stuff. It's very good, but it isn't that good. I think we made a very good trade. I wish him the best, I hope he does well. He is not Liriano, okay?
SFDugout.com: One last injury guy, how's Marcus Sanders doing?
Hiatt: He's doing well. We have him throwing sidearm. He was moved from short to second, and he responded well. He's working hard at second base. That's what he started as, and when his arm was at its peak we had him at shortstop. And then he re-injured his shoulder again, we had to do various things the last couple of years that has kept him in and out of the lineup. Now he's back at second, and he's doing very well.
SFDugout.com: I know last year was a very hard year for him between injuries and the disappointing performance. I know he got hit on the hand early in the year, and I saw him just before he went to his rehab in Arizona, he still had something on his hand. Was last year's problems from the shoulder injury, or was it more just the hand injury?
Hiatt: It was the shoulder. The hand didn't help, but his shoulder was just inadequate for shortstop, and putting him out there was very difficult.
SFDugout.com: Do you expect him to bounce back to that top prospect form that he had a couple of the past years?
Hiatt: Well, he's running at the same top speed. We'll see if the bat comes all the way back, because when he reinjured his arm it restricted some of his swing, which affected his batting average as you noticed. Cause he's certainly not a .190, .200 hitter. This guy's around .300, line-drive hitter with some power for his size. So we're looking that he's all the way back. Putting him at second is an ease on his arm, and maybe we resurrect his career and get him back in the lineup and playing every day. Shortstop's not the answer.
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