BRADENTON, Fl. – I typically don’t like doing transcription articles, where all I post is the transcript of an interview with a player. It always feels lazy, like I couldn’t take the time to turn the quotes into a story, or add any further analysis to the interview. But I’m making an exception today.
I watched John Jaso doing fielding drills with Kevin Young for a long period of time this afternoon, then conducted a one-on-one interview with him at the end of the day, discussing his progress at first base since we last spoke at mini-camp. The fielding still has some work, as you can see in the video at the bottom of the article. That said, his answers were so good and so in-depth, that it would have been a disservice to break them up and try to fit them in to a story. Instead, I’m presenting his full responses, along with context for the questions. Video of some of his work today can be found below the interview.
Jaso spent a lot of time working with Kevin Young today, and has been working with him since mini camp. I asked how the work has been going.
Jaso: It’s been going well. It’s good to hear positive feedback from him. All I really know is I’m just doing what I’m told. It was good to hear positive feedback from him. Thankfully it’s going in the right direction. It’s still very exciting and everything, learning the position. And just trying to soak in as much knowledge as possible. I’m a worker and a learner, so I’m all ears out there.
Jaso has been working since mini camp on his fielding drills. What kind of improvements has he seen in the last month?
Jaso: It’s really little tricks and little keys that we’re kind of working on to slow down the game. Some of that has to do with breaking bad habits as far as switching from the catching position to first base. Where I hold my glove is the big thing that we’re concentrating on right now. As a catcher, you’re angling your glove one way, all day long for the last 15 years. And now, first base, you have to angle it another way, and you don’t realize it, but you do have habits. If a ball is hit really hard at you, and having to make a large movement with your glove, it’s speeding up the game. Building new habits where the glove is already open, it’s already down there, is kind of a process right now that’s helping me to slow down the game, especially when a ball comes off hot off the bat.
Everyone thinks that catchers have no problems moving to first base because they’re used to receiving 90-100 MPH fastballs behind the plate. How does that actually help at the new position?
Jaso: I think a lot of the good part of that transition is being comfortable having balls coming that hard at you. I can’t count the amount of bruises and everything that I’ve had. That does kind of transition to the position. But, the little techniques and fundamental stuff that you do with the first base position is kind of the learning process. I think it does kind of help coming from the catching position.
Catchers are used to picking balls out of the dirt, although their main focus with blocking is keeping the ball in front of them, rather than making the catch. I asked Jaso how things were different at first base.
Jaso: It’s a little bit different. I know most of the time you would hope there are people coming and trying to back you up as much as possible. And I think a lot of that is going to come with experience too, knowing when to come off the bag to receive an errant throw, or when to make it a do-or-die play. And a lot of that stuff happens at home plate as well, but not as often as it happens at first base. I think that repetitions are going to help you be able to judge whether or not to let the out go and make sure that the runner ahead of him doesn’t get further into scoring position or score. As far as the picks go, there’s just little techniques there that I’m learning that is helping. I’ve definitely felt an improvement since day one, and just getting the positive feedback from the coaching staff also tells me there’s been improvement.
The pivot and throw to second base always seems to be the most difficult thing for new first basemen to learn, so I asked how that progress was going.
Jaso: It’s been going well. I think the first couple of days, we were kind of concentrating on the footwork, because KY and Nick were both here and were kind of concentrating on that. I think that footwork goes along with a lot of different things in baseball, where there’s more than one way to skin a cat as far as technique goes. Everybody has their comfort and way of doing it. I think you kind of establish the most comfortable way of getting that footwork to turn the double play, because the most important thing is getting that lead runner, getting a good feed there, and I think we’re moving in the right direction as far as that footwork goes. I’m feeling pretty comfortable.
How does the Spring Training workload at first base compare to catching?
Jaso: It’s pretty easy. Last year I was doing the outfield work, and that was pretty easy as well. When it comes to catching, I think catching is kind of the unsung position, and I think a bit underpaid. Right now it’s just me out there, so it is kind of a cardio workout right now, because I don’t really have anybody else to take turns with. But the workload with catching — blocking balls, doing footwork to second, burners — it’s a lot of work.
Expanding on the catcher workload in Spring Training.
Jaso: During the off-season, you do as much work as you want in the weight room, running, cardio, lifting weights, and then you get out there on the field and you’re just exhausted and you have no idea why. But that’s just the way baseball is. You have to start getting these reps in out on the field. Standing around and catching, squatting for that amount of time. It’s a different beast., because your hips, your lower back, all of that stuff comes into play. And all of that flexibility is really important.
So even though he worked 1-on-1 with Kevin Young for a long period of time today, first base is still much easier than catching?
Jaso: [Laughs] Definitely. You could probably ask Mike Napoli the same thing.