Every October for the last quarter century, baseball’s top young prospects showcase and develop their skills with six weeks of high-level competition in the desert, where 180 players come together to form six teams and play in the Arizona Fall League.
The Giants sent eight players to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2016 – third baseman Ryder Jones, catchers Aramis Garcia and Eliezer Zambrano, outfielder Hunter Cole and pitchers Rodolfo Martinez, Tyler Mizenko, Tyler Rogers and Chris Stratton.
Of the position players, Jones’ numbers might have been the most impressive, but Scorpions hitting coach and former Giants first baseman Damon Minor left Arizona and returned to his offseason home feeling strong about the Giants’ overall crop of talent.
“With guys like Ryder Jones and Aramis Garcia, and then Hunter Cole as an athlete out in the outfield, the Giants showed some great young talent down there,” Minor told CSNBayArea.com.
Jones rode a second-half groove to finish with a .302 batting average, .380 on-base percentage, .429 slugging percentage, two home runs and 12 RBI in 18 games.
“For Ryder it was just about seeing pitches, and especially with two strikes” Minor said. “He stopped expanding his zone so much and was able to get more pitches to hit.”
Jones batted .357 and hit both round-trippers while walking six times to just three strikeouts in his final nine games. And Minor, who was known more as a player for big flies than drawing walks, is finding a niche as the Giants’ Triple-A hitting coach for the franchise that made him a four-year MLB veteran.
The 42-year-old Minor this year is entering his second season as the Sacramento River Cats hitting coach, a position he never dreamed of holding during his playing tenure.
“As a player, you never really think about coaching because you’re just so focused on being a player and getting that next at-bat,” Minor said. “But I always wanted to be back with the Giants.”
After his playing career ended in 2006 with 12 games in the Mexican League, Minor’s post-playing career began modestly. He first ventured into coaching in 2007 as a volunteer at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. Later, private hitting lessons developed into the Minor-Floral Baseball Academy, which Minor co-founded in 2008. And in 2012, Minor was hired as the hitting coach for the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate – the New Orleans Zephyrs.
Four years later, Minor jumped at the opportunity to return to the Giants organization.
“I was lucky enough to be able to come back,” Minor said, “which is something I always wanted to do.”
Minor cited Giants coaches like former manager Dusty Baker and long-time infield coach Ron Wotus for instilling in him the “Giants Way.” Now, that’s Minor’s job, and it’s much different from his former role as a player.
Minor arrives at Raley’s Field in Sacramento around 12 p.m. for a standard 7 p.m. night game and is met with the task of preparing players to succeed that night as well as the challenge of developing players for a long professional baseball career.
“As a player, you would kind of just show up and be ready to play that game that night,” Minor said. “But as a coach, you’re there early and helping prepare for all these different guys. It’s a long process, but it’s all worth it because I love what I do and it’s so fulfilling seeing these guys progress and have success as Giants.”
Minor enjoyed a successful career with Fresno Grizzlies, then the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, slugging 79 home runs, 259 RBI and a .297 batting average over 388 games in five seasons, but it’s the lessons he learned along the way observing his coaches that most help him in his current position.
“I think for me,” Minor said, “it was seeing that Giants Way and learning from guys like Dusty Baker and Ron Wotus and that’s really helped me more than anything else in what I do today.”
Asked about his favorite moment on the field with the Giants, the 6-foot-7 slugger didn’t hesitate: In a 10-2 home win over the Padres on Sept. 10, 2000, Minor clanged his first major league hit off the right field foul pole, good for a three-run homer that caromed back onto the field.
He keeps the ball and the memory forever in a safe place. Time will tell if his coaching career produces a new favorite Giants memory.