TigsTown Q&A: GCL Pitching Coach Greg Sabat

TigerTown Pitching Coordinator and GCL Pitching Coach Greg Sabat took a few minutes before spring training to speak with Mark Anderson about a career that has included working for the New York Knicks as a youngster, coaching over seas and in Latin America, and working for over a decade with the Tigers.

TigsTown: You've had a chance to be all over the world in your baseball career, and you are about to start your 13th year with the Tigers; how did you get started with the Tigers organization and what has that time been like for you?

Greg Sabat: I was coaching at St. John's and the Tigers had an opening and I interviewed with Steve Burroughs – who at the time was the Minor League Director. Then I had another interview with John Matlack and got started in rookie ball. It was actually Omar Minaya that let me know they had an opening. Omar and I grew up together. When he was done playing in the minors, he played for me in Italy. He signed out of high school with Oakland, then played a little bit with Seattle. When he was done there we asked him if he wanted to come to Italy and we spent a couple of years over there together.

TT: That's really interesting!

GS: We played little league together. He's kind of like family.

TT: Now, you've spent twelve or thirteen years working as a coach in the GCL, what's been your focus in working with players that are typically very young and very raw at that level?

GS: The big thing is honing their skills and getting a repeatable delivery; basically teaching them to put the ball where they want. We're trying to get them out of this level and have success at the next few levels.

TT: What's the biggest challenge you face in helping them harness control of their arsenal?

GS: Usually its delivery primarily; basic balance, drive, really just being able to put the ball where they want. A lot of it is mental too. The guys that get to the big leagues quickly – the Nate Cornejo's, Zumaya, Verlander – they've got their parts aligned and figured out. You really don't have to do much with them, just keep them on track. They are usually able to make adjustments on their own quickly.

TT: You mentioned you've also taken on the role of TigerTown Pitching Coordinator. What exactly does that entail?

GS: A lot of working with the medical staff to help pitchers and position guys that have arm problems. The medical staff works to get them back into a strong athletic shape, then I work to get them back into pitching shape. Right now I'm working with the early arrivals before camp starts, guys like Verlander, Dontrelle Willis has been here for over a month, Macay McBride has been rehabbing, Joel Zumaya, Bonderman, Zach Miner are all down here.

TT: One of the things I'm curious about Greg; a lot of organizations are trying to find ways to protect young pitchers, keeping innings down, keeping pitch counts down, etc. What are some of the restrictions that you have to work within at the GCL level?

GS: We really try and stress quality, not quantity. Our high school pitchers aren't allowed to go over 75 pitches their first year. There after, they are kept under 100 in A-ball. Once they get to Double-A or Triple-A, they can't go over 100 until they've gotten to that level three times. We also make sure to consider the weather and a lot of different factors as well.

TT: Does that same type of progression apply to your Latin American pitchers that are coming stateside for the first time? GS: If they are young, yes it does. If they are older and been throwing for a little while we're still careful but we'll consider them more of an A-ball player.

TT: You kind of have to play it by ear a bit I suppose. GS: Right. A lot of it, again, is more focused on quality.

TT: Moving away from what you're doing right now, and talking a little bit about your career; you've had a chance to work all over the world. Of your time spent coaching for St. John's, in Italy, for Team USA, an coaching in Mexico, what has been your favorite experience that you've had?

GS: It's all been pretty good! The Tiger experience has been real good. I enjoy working with the older players like I get to right now before spring training starts. Later on I'll get to work with Triple-A, Double-A, A-ball, really the whole gamut during spring training, and that's always really enjoyable. I go through this culture shock in spring training, then I get back to working with the rookies in April.

TT: That's a little bit of an awakening I am sure.

GS: They actually have the same arm as the big leaguers, but it's the repeatability that isn't there.

GS: Going back, Mike Rojas and I had the opportunity to coach in winter ball last year in the Dominican Republic. That was pretty enjoyable, and we look forward to doing it again next year. It's good competition. It's really not that much development, it's a lot more game strategy and things you would use at the big league level.

TT: You mentioned that once you get to April it is a bit of culture shock, where you are working with kids that have the same kind of arm as the big leaguers, but may not be as refined. How rewarding is it to take a prospect and have him come in as a pure thrower that's got a big arm, and then you start to see that progress towards a guy that's becoming a pitcher?

GS: It's pretty rewarding when you seem them mature as a person and a pitcher. You can just sit back and start talking about finer points; things like pitch selection, recognizing swings, and working a lineup. As a rookie you're just trying to get them in the zone, now you're not worried about throwing strikes, you're worried about attacking the batter instead.

TT: You just mentioned that its rewarding to see them grow as a player and as a person, how much of their development as a pitcher is incumbent upon them maturing emotionally and understanding what's going on around them?

GS: It's important for them to keep in touch with reality, and what they're trying to accomplish, and how to go about behaving as a professional on and off the field. Perception is a big thing as well, today with all the media and people taking pictures, it can be difficult.

TT: One of the things someone mentioned to me was that when you coached in Mexico, you had the chance to coach Curt Schilling. What was it like to work with someone of that caliber?

GS: You just sit back and enjoy! Curt's a pretty funny guy, and great to be around. He liked jogging with me before games, because I jog nice and slow. He really just threw fastballs and moved them around the zone. He had a slider and didn't really use a split. That was actually after his rookie year in the big leagues. It was quite an experience.

TT: Would you say he's the best you've ever coached, or have you seen someone come along that you've been more impressed with since then?

GS: Curt, Verlander, Matt Morris was on that staff, they are all pretty nice.

TigsTown would like to thank Greg for taking time away from all his duties in Lakeland to speak with us before Spring Training began. We wish him well this spring, and hope he has a successful summer working with the GCL Tigers in 2009!

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