By Jon Weisman
Instead of a single Winter Development Program for minor leaguers this month, as they have had in recent years, the Dodgers will run three different smaller camps over the next three weeks.
“There’s room for us to do it a little more creatively this time and optimize for togetherness and development of our players, and also our staff members,” Dodger director of player development Gabe Kapler said.
The slate will begin with a retreat for Dodger player development staff Monday in Los Angeles. Then, running from January 21-24 at Camelback Ranch, will be a camp specifically for catchers.
“It’s going to be a robust, thorough (approach) to catching from a number of different angles, including pitch sequencing and keeping balls in the strike zone,” Kapler said.
The catchers camp has been spearheaded by Jeremy Zoll, the Dodgers’ new senior manager of player development.
“He has done a spectacular job of building this camp out,” Kapler said of the 25-year-old Zoll, most recently advanced scouting coordinator for the Angels.
Zoll said that one of the ideas behind the camp is to get catchers at all levels of the organization the instruction they need ahead of Spring Training, when countless pitchers need someone to throw to and time is precious.
“Catchers have a lot of responsibilities, whether it’s defensively, game-calling, managing different personalities … before you even start to think about the offensive component,” Zoll said.
“As we kind of thought about it, catchers have a lot thrown on their plate at the start of Spring Training. There’s not a lot of time to have dedicated work sessions just for them, so we felt if we designed a three-day minicamp to kind of jump-start things we want to implement throughout the organization … it would be beneficial.”
Zoll said there would be a mix of educational and on-field sessions, led by (among others) catching coordinator Travis Barbary, assistant catching coordinator Ryan Sienko, field coordinator Clayton McCullough and more. There is catching expertise up and down the organization, including two new former big-league backstops in new bench coach Bob Geren and bullpen coach Josh Bard.
On the heels of the catchers camp will be a leadership council camp in Los Angeles from January 25-27, featuring “selected players and staff members in the organization who we feel have the capability to reach other players with positive messages, and to continue to work toward flexibility, communication and trust throughout our player development,” according to Kapler.
Kapler added that the leadership council camp will revolve around interactive conversation between players and staff members.
“We’re going to be presenting less and involving them more,” Kapler said.
The changes from last year’s program — which itself was well-received — represent the ongoing reevaluation of baseball operations internally to make sure the best possible methods are being used.
“Philosophically, we view doing things because they make sense and not because they were done that way the year prior,” Kapler said. “There’s a real chance we do it differently next year. We don’t feel locked into any particular (approach).”