MadFriars Q&A: Sam Geaney's First Six Months

Running a player development system is a complex job that involves a staff of nearly 50 people who are responsible for turning young baseball players into big leaguers. In October of last year, new San Diego Padres general Manager AJ Preller turned over responsibility for that operation to 29-year-old Sam Geaney, who has spent most of the last decade working in scouting for the Oakland A’s.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- We talked with Geaney when spring training was going full bore to get a better understanding of the groundwork he laid in his first offseason and to hear his thoughts on the job ahead.

MadFriars: Can you walk our readers through the process from when you came on board until camp opened? What were your first tasks to tackle?

Sam Geaney: I came on board in late October. We spent a lot of the first few months assembling the people who are going to work in the department on a daily basis. Luis Ortiz on the field and hitting side, Mark Prior obviously came on in the middle of December after being with the organization for a year. We added Eric Junge and kept Gorm Heimueller in place. Keeping Eddy Rodriguez in place and hiring Tarrick Brock on the baserunning and outfield side. Bradley Westman has been a very, very big addition. That was a lot of the first two months, getting that core group of coordinators.

From there it shifted to figuring out where our staff members were going to be for 2015. I’ve been very excited with a lot of the existing people we already had in place and continuing to give them opportunities to grow in their own careers. Michael Collins and Anthony Contreras, among others, we kind of see as rising stars on this side of the field. A lot of it has been getting to know the staff in the first few months.

Then shifting a little more to the baseball side internally, there have been really good and fun discussions through a series of development meetings in San Diego. That brought together that coordinator group as well as the Major League staff, really having some good honest discussions about what we think is important to win in San Diego at the big league level and how we put together the beginnings of our program here for what our organization’s going to look like on the minor league side. Those meetings began in November, continued through organizational meetings we had here in December with amateur scouting, international scouting, everyone in player development, athletic training, medical, Major League coaches – everyone was here and continued to build relationships with the new and existing people.

Dave Snow is a long-time college baseball coach has been a great resource to me as well as a lot of the other coaches, with a tremendous lifetime of baseball experience and passion for the game with a very strong interest in the mental side of things. So that’s been a lot of his focus – on-the-field peak performance. Giving these guys the tools – because he’s had a lot of success at Long Beach with a lot of very successful players who continue to use some of the skills they learned from him and his program. That’s going to be a big piece as we start to think about what our program looks like, Dave’s going to be a big piece of that.

In terms of beginning to get a handle on the 190-plus players you are responsible for, what has been the process?

Sam Geaney: I got to the Dominican for our Dominican instructional program in November. You know, you can read a lot reports and watch a lot of video, but it really helps to see these guys in person. In January, our Dominican program opened up, and that was to prepare all of our guys who were going to travel here and be in spring training and extended. We took a group of guys down there and spent about two weeks – mostly coordinators and younger coaches – and exposing them and our players to what our player development program is going to look like. Things like how we’re going to work and what sort of drills we’re going to emphasize. The overall mentality of the organization. So that was kind of a nice way to put a lot of meeting-based ideas into practice on the field. And that took us more or less to the beginning of February, when we got a few weeks in San Diego before we got out here.

Here, we began with a 40 player mini-camp and continued to implement. That was a really good opportunity for us – you may see us doing some unique drills hitting heavy balls, hitting light balls and kind of taking a baseball school-style approach to it. Some of the work Luis does down in camp with the kids, I would say the number of touches per day that each player receives is something we’re really aiming to set a high standard for. It’s hard with 170 players here, but that minicamp gave us a real opportunity to get – selfishly for us as staff members – to get to know the kids pretty well. It gave a chance for Mark Prior to really have some close bullpen sessions with these kids. For Eddie Rodriguez to work with Fernando Perez each morning – and in the evening. So it was a mix of getting to know the players and to put into practice some of the things we’ve talked about.

Spring training, every year it’s getting shorter and shorter, not to bemoan it. It’s pretty much go time when pitchers and catchers report and then they’re on the mound within a day, so they’ve got to come into camp in shape. Then positions players hsow up and four days after that, we start playing games and then it’s a full day for these kids and for us, to get their work in, keep them healthy and keep them on the field, but at the same time, to know that it’s a balance because it’s one of the few times we’re all here together and can introduce organizational policies and how we do things. But we also understand that these kids are trying to make teams, and it’s their careers. And that’s a big element, giving these guys the opportunities to make clubs. The message we’ve sent to a lot of these kids is, with a lot of the things AJ has done in the last few months, there’s a lot of opportunity. Right now, there’s a lot of new people here in this organization and we’re going in open minded with these kids, so I think players have responded well. I think they like the program, the people and how we’re working with them.

When you talk about your vision for player development, what does that look like that’s going to require a change in implementation?

Sam Geaney: I don’t want to say necessarily change, but building on the work that Randy and RJ (Randy Johnson) did the last couple of years. I think it’s our goal to be the standard in the game, and I think we have an idea of how we’re going to get there. We’re going to do it with a lot of quality work, with an emphasis on the mental side and a cohesive view of the player. And to be honest, a very selfless emphasis from our staff that we’re here for these guys, to improve their careers. Ultimately if these guys do well and the organization does well at the Major League level, it’s going to benefit all of us and these players. You may have seen us do some things that may be perceived as very elementary – stepping things back a little. We’re introducing guys to how we expect them to play catch, how we expect them to get their leads off the bases, and not really assuming that professional players know any of these things. And not in a negative way.

So, as far as the vision of what this organization’s going to look like, whether it’s how we take infield, or when we go into an affiliate, how our guys stand out for the national anthem, we will leave no stone unturned as far as what it means to be a professional and what it means to be a Padre.

I’ve seen your coordinators take 10 minutes here and there pulling players off to the side and really probing with questions, asking what the players think and know about themselves. Is that an intentional effort?

Sam Geaney: I think we’re trying to be creative about how we’re running spring training and being open to how to do things a little differently. I think you’ll find with AJ and it’s engrained with this department. It’s a growth mindset. We’re going into this that we don’t have all the answers. So I think what you might be seeing is – I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel, but trying to be open to things. We have bullpens in the morning at 8:30, where they’re one-on-one with our three pitching core guys. And they can really get to a Jean Garcia, an 18 year old. Because in his case, he’s not competing to make one of the four clubs this year, so why do we necessarily need to put him in with a group of players who are? We’re not really preparing him like he needs to be ready to go April 9, so why would we do that? I think that vision on their side will allow us to be a little open and very individualized with these kids.

What is your approach on decisions about letting players go or sending them to an affiliate they might not be hoping for?

Sam Geaney: It’s trying to reach and touch everyone who knows these players and has an opinion or something to add. Whether it be coaches, front office members, amateur scouts, professional scouts. Those are decisions we take very, very seriously and we never want to be flippant with them. They are decisions we stand by as an organization.

When you look at your philosophy, there are organizations that tend to push guys faster, and then others like the Rays. Do you have a broad philosophy of your own, and one that you've had agreement from guys on the big league side? In looking at a guy like Franchy Cordero or other high-ceiling guys, how aggressive do you want to be with them?

Sam Geaney: It’s an easy answer, but it’s a difficult one: it’s a very individualized thing. It’s going to be a lot dependent on factors surrounding that player – where we want him to play, what position, where they are as a person, health, history. All these things fit in. I do think based on how spring is running so far, we want guys to compete. We’re not coming in with – and it’s easy with a lot of us are new, but I’d like this to be a tenet of the organization in the future – we want this to be a competitive camp where guys can enhance their standing within the organization with a quality camp and force the issue with where they’re projected to go. We do like the idea of guys having some success at a level before they move up.

On the pitching side, do you generically want to see guys go level-by-level and grow their innings work? How do you look at the ongoing work around the game to figure out how to develop an arm without blowing it out and without leaving it under-developed?

Sam Geaney: It’s something that’s constantly evolving and part of some of the guys we’ve added to this organization. Eric Junge, a long-time big league pitcher and been working on the advanced scouting side for the last couple of years, is now a part of this pitching group. And a lot of the thinking in getting him onto this side is that he’s trying to get an answer – not that we know if there are answers to some of them – but to investigate them. Mark and Gorm are really tasked with the day-to-day mechanics of running a pitching department and that’s a really big job, so we wanted to continue to grow the mindset and continue looking both outward and inward on how we’re doing things. That’s everything from arm care process and strength and conditioning, looking internally, and at best practices inside the industry and out. For Eric, I think it’s something he has a very creative mind and we’re going to task him with seeking out some of these ideas, whether they’re in the United States, around the world, outside of baseball in other sports.

Back to the pitching side of things, I think we have an idea of the kind of pitchers we want to graduate to the Major Leagues – what Darren and Buddy require of those guys to be successful in the N.L. West, so that’s very much at the forefront of our minds as we think about things. We think about pitch counts, what the expectations of when one of our young guys is asked to make a start in the big leagues, it’s not going to be a very controlled 85 pitches. If you’re facing the Dodgers or Giants, you’re going to be asked to go out and do that. So it’s a balance between always monitoring the health of these guys and pitch counts and innings limits, while at the same time knowing that they need to be mentally and physically prepare for what they’re going to be asked to do. So as far as season inning projections, we’ve had a lot of discussions about our young pitchers knowing what it feels like to pitch at the end of a ballgame, to pitch into the eighth inning of a ballgame. We’re going to expose ourselves to many creative ideas to maybe gain advantage on that side as well.

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