The Dodgers have a Spanish speaker on the coaching staffs of each of their six minor league affiliates, which makes sense considering how many of their players are from Latin America.
But what seems like a common-sense practice is, in fact, a groundbreaking measure implemented by the organization’s new farm director, Gabe Kapler.
Each Dodgers minor league team will have three coaches this year, up from two last year. The reason for that, Kapler explained Monday on a conference call, is to ensure that each staff would have a Spanish-speaking coach.
“It’s tremendously important, particularly at the lower levels, but even at the upper levels because cultural assimilation for us organizationally is as important as probably any other element of player development,” Kapler said.
Kapler said he was influenced by his experience playing for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants of Japan in 2005.
“The baseball was nearly the same, but I was really out of my element because I was very used to communicating in the clubhouse,” Kapler said. “When that element was removed for me, I felt very out of my skin and being out of my skin translated to poor performance on the field.”
Kapler said he wants his players to be comfortable.
“Only when they are comfortable and stress-free will they perform to the best of their abilities,” he said.
Kapler touched on a number of other topics during the call.
On 18-year-old left-hander Julio Urias, who is participating in the Dodgers’ winter development program in Los Angeles this week: “Tremendously talented, obviously electric arm and makeup off the charts. Tremendous human being. Amazing character. A guy that I believe had extraordinary leadership capabilities, has already rubbed off tremendously on other pitchers in the organization and the position players as well. I’ve had multiple conversations with different guys around the organization, all who sing his praises and believe him to be just legitimately a top-notch human being. That’s one of the things we strive for in player development, strong character. … To answer your question directly about Urias and how far away he is [to the major leagues], we want to see him in camp, we want to see him in the regular season, and we’ll sort of make that assessment a little bit further down the road.”
On Urias’ innings count for the upcoming season: “We’re actively discussing how to manage our pitchers’ workloads. Certainly, it’s a work in progress, and one that we’ll continue to discuss.”
On why Corey Seager isn’t in Los Angeles this week: “He had a bit of a long year, culminating with the Arizona Fall League. We thought what was best for him developmentally was to stay in North Carolina and go about his strength and conditioning program and his throwing program and just stay home. … We made that decision together.”
On changes to the winter development program: “I think in the past it’s been driven by the camp on the field, and guys have had an opportunity to display their athletic prowess. We leaned heavily against that this year in favor of creating a more mentally inviting environment. We wanted our players to stay on their off-season programs, their throwing programs, their strength and conditioning programs and not ramp up in the middle of winter to impress physically. Rather, we wanted them to be open-minded and flexible and nimble of thought and be excited about coming in to share sort of a unique experience, where there was going to be a ton of information passed back and forth, group discussions and just sort of talk shop, to a degree.”