John Jaso Gets In-Depth About His Transition to First Base

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.

  • Is Rogers still alive? We actually have guys on the team who have played 1B. Why all the focus on Jaso? The Pirates gave up decent prospects for Rogers. Are they really going to just tuck him away in Indy? Now THAT would be something to write about for sure.

  • His footwork taking throws has gotten pretty good already. That’s a good sign. And of course it’s still early, and there’s opportunity to improve.

  • I’m surprised Young still has a job. Afterall, he was brought in to help Pedro…..

  • I wonder if Kevin Young was giving him tips on how to make 23 mil in 4 years while compiling a -2.1 WAR. That is one of the most genius things I’ve ever seen a ballplayer do.

  • Ouch! Like what he is saying but his technique, footwork and movement gives me concern. Hopefully it starts clicking. Also where’s Mr. Bell? He doesn’t need any work?

  • I’m glad Jaso is putting in the work. Not familiar enough with his bat to know how this will go. Should be interesting how Sean Rodriguez’s dad handles 1st

    • Walks as much as he K’s…that…right there…will be enough to confuse Pirate fans 🙂

      • He’s also been platooned far more heavily than Hurdle even platooned Pedro…will be interesting to see how this plays out in the NL.

        • He has, definitely, been platooned…well platooned.

          And, most likely, for a reason.

          If that’s the case…I’m just hoping the tradition carries on.

          I’m not sure what the biggest problem with Pedro was…whether it was that he couldn’t hit lefties or that he faced so many of
          them…one is a player deficiency…the other is managerial.

  • Pedro missed throws and catches that most of us would have made… drunk, playing intermural softball back in college. accuma matata with Jaso playing first.

    • The pick off throws he dropped ticked me off, but it was by far the arm that perplexed me. He has a gun, and didn’t wind up playing 3rd base at an SEC school by default.

      This might not be a great comparison, but just strikes me a little bit like Jose Guillen. Immense physical tools, just doesn’t have to mental makeup.

      Can’t imagine what he’s thinking now. Didn’t think he’d still be on the street in late Feb. Guess defense is paramount now. DH can’t come to the NL soon enough for Pedro.

      • I always got the feeling that Guillen was like, I am 19 playing in the show, and y’inz cannot tell me anything. I am Jose Guillen, *Pirates Prospects Edit”

        While Pedro tried but just lost his game.

        Do you think the Pirates would have kept Pedro for $8+ million to DH?

        • I don’t know about them, but I might have. You start adding up money from guys they’ve blown money on the last few years, I can think of worse things to spend on.

          Heck, they may have just offered arbitration because I imagine other NL teams would have pursued him. When they do introduce it here in the next few years, be interesting how teams tackle it.

  • Tim alluded to the narrative going around that catchers have easy transitions to first base. This tracks back to a comment made by Jeff Sullivan in FanGraphs writeup of the signing, “But I don’t think anyone should be worried about catastrophes. Jaso’s background is catching, and catchers who’ve done this before have by and large come away fine. By the numbers, Buster Posey didn’t struggle to adjust to first base. Neither did Victor Martinez. Neither did Joe Mauer. Neither did Mike Napoli, or Jason Phillips, or Stephen Vogt. Neither did Carlos Santana.”

    Not only is there obvious survivor bias at play here – nobody remembers the guys who were never good enough to *successfully* make the transition – but more interestingly to me, not a single one of the guys he lists actually transitioned fully from one position to the other in a single year. Carlos Santana was closest at roughly a 60%C / 40%1B split. Most played less than 200 innings at 1B in their initial trial. This question seems logical enough to me, but I wonder which is easier, a gradual transition or being thrown into the fire?

    • The playing time split is a good catch.

      Interesting note on this topic: Over at BucsDugout a few posters looked at the frequency of catchers moving to 1B. Its happening a whole lot more frequently in the last 10 years than prior. Too many possible reasons for why that is to be sure, but it is interesting that more guys are seemingly being asked/doing that position shift than 20 years ago.

    • There’s also people like Ryan Doumit who made Pedro look like a gold glover.

      • Though Doumit was incompetent with a glove wherever you put him, whereas Jaso, for example, could actually do something defensively at catcher.

        • My point was don’t just mention the ones who has been able to do it. There’s no guarantee Jaso will be able to do it either. I hope he can, but not holding my breath

    • Just from thinking about it I’d assume it’d be quicker but maybe a little rougher for the team.

  • Jaso has a long way to go however unlike Pedro he is working with the right people to get it done. He is not in Nashville telling everyone he is working on it at Vandy when in reality he is working on a few pints on 2nd street.

    • And unlike Pedro, I expect him to get on base at least 35% of the time.

      • .320 would be an improvement 🙂

        But, with a lifetime .361…that shouldn’t be difficult.

        However, as a founding member of the anti-Pedro club…I do have to point out…Pedro’s homeruns in 2013 are about the same as Jaso’s for the last six seasons.

        • I think the ability to extend innings is a good skill and Jaso has that. I don’t know how many times I saw Pedro come up late in games, down by run, with guys on base and he would strike out on 3 pitches. He was an easy out way too often.

          • I agree…there’s a lot to be said for making a pitcher work. Ideally, I’d love for the Pirates to be up 5-0 in the fourth innings of every game and having knocked the opposing pitcher out…

            But, I think, there’s a lot of be said for 6+ pitch at bats and starting to wear the guy out.

            • Yep, nothing frustrates me more than watching the Bucs go down in the first inning on less than 15 pitches. Make that pitcher work.

              • What really gets me is when they’ve got a guy they work for 40 pitches through 2…then, next thing you know, it’s the end of the fifth and hasn’t thrown 70 yet.

                Not sure where the fine line is between taking your hacks and trying to dig into their BP early…and I’m sure the guys are thinking they’ve got a shot for something when they swing…but, c’mon…take a pitch or two.

    • Your post and handle are perfectly suited for one another. What’s the special at the bar tonight, by the way?

    • Surely Pedro would know there are much better places to drink in Nashville than The District.

  • Send him to Dicks to get that shiny new glove custom steamed. On the way home take him to the barber. Next week, if the ball is still bouncing out of his glove call Morneau and schedule a physical.

  • Good interview Tim, but really wish I didn’t watch the video. Guy looks incredibly awkward. On the positive he seemed to keep his head and shoulders down on the dirt ball.

  • someone get him a 1b glove haha…Here’s to hoping that with all the spring training reps he will start making those look routine.

  • Cleanly fielded 4 out of 7 in the video………yikes.

    • Seems somewhat comfortable though. Even the first one where he sorta awkwardly stretches, he stays on the base.

      Im more interested in his stuff away from the base, pivot and throw and reactions to the ball in the hole.

      • Yeah I thought he looks pretty athletic- probably just getting reps and building up muscle memory.

    • Lonnnnnnnnng way to go, that’s for sure.

      • Yep, the footwork around the bag should get much better/less stiff with the daily work, and, as a former Catcher, he will adapt. Catchers can play any defensive position and usually throw the best knuckleball on the team – just ask them. Just kidding, but I like the leadership undertone and the references to working hard to get better. He can help.

    • Who is throwing the ball? My goodness……I know……

  • Thanks for the interview Tim; just a few questions about Jaso. How much improvement do you think Jaso has made from his initial work in Mini-Camp compared to now? Is he ready to start at first today and if not do you think he’ll be able ready by Opening Day? And how well does he compare to Pedro? He seem a lot more athletic but that might just be my optimism talking.

    • I don’t think he’s ready to start right now, so it’s a good thing it’s mid-February. I think he’ll be ready to start on Opening Day, with the disclaimer that his defense will still need some work. It’s really difficult to compare him to Pedro, since I haven’t seen him in a game yet.

      • That was great interview Tim.

      • Great interview…when you say: “compare him to Pedro”…are you saying where he is now or where you think he’ll be by Opening Day?

        • Where he is now. I was just answering the question. I’m not doing much comparison right now, and it’s way too soon to be predicting any final results. I’m just observing his defense, seeing that he has stuff to work on, and knowing that he has six weeks to work on it. He worked for about an hour with Young today. That kind of work from now through the end of Spring Training should lead to better results.

          • Gotcha…although the results weren’t pretty on the surface. I appreciate the lack of tentativeness. I’m sure there’ll be some bumps along the way, but it looks like he’s attacking the change.

            • I don’t know how exactly you simulate this, but game speed is really all that matters. What you see above is *by far* the easy stuff. Not really indicative of what to expect in six weeks at full speed.

            • I’m not sure you could take much from the 30 second video because those throws were difficult plays on purpose. Also, it was literally less than 1% of the work he did for the day. I think it’s a great sign that he was there at the mini camp everyday, has been at Pirate City since then regularly, and he arrived a week early for Spring Training(which is why he was the only first baseman and got extra work today). Now we have 46 days to see where he is by Opening Day.

              • Signing guys who live in Bradenton…new market inefficiency? 😉

                • I like that guys are willing to move there to be close to Pirate City. I’m not sure how many have moved there, but there are quite a few. They did draft Seth McGarry and sign Garrett Russini last year, both Bradenton natives, so maybe it is their new goal. I know Michael Suchy’s family is likely to move the Marauders attendance up a few spots in the FSL ranks. That’s literal, not a joke. They travel deep.

                  I should add that Jaso lives close to Bradenton, but not there. He said 30 minutes away.

                  • Haha, always appreciate your anecdotes.

                  • I went to an FSL game in St Lucie a few years back and the attendance was less than the game time temperature, so I suspect moving the needle on attendance wouldn’t be all that hard. Funny, but people in Florida seem to think there are better things to do at 6 PM on a 100-degree day than go to a minor league baseball game.

                    Philistines.

                    • The FSL draws horrible. Since 2005, there hasn’t been one team that averaged 3,000 fans per game in a season. For comparison sake, the SAL had six teams average at least 3,000 just last year.

              • I didn’t put much stock into it…but what I saw that I did like was that he didn’t seem to have any hesitancy…I saw that as a positive.

                I’m not all that concerned if he’s bobbling or missing the transaction from glove to hand…that’s stuff, I think, that will fall into place with reps.

              • It is a sign of how ready for baseball we all are to see this 30 second video cause so many comments. Somewhat comical too… “he’s dropping the ball but looking enthusiastic while doing it.”
                You are right… we will know soon enough if there will be competency or another butcher at first.

                • I can guarantee that Jaso will make an error early in the Spring Training schedule, then not play the next day, and someone will say he has to be in there everyday. No one plays everyday in Spring Training, not even Adam LaRoche back when the Pirates figured they needed to get him as many ST at-bats as possible to help combat his slow starts to the regular season. It’s one of the joys of ST. For that future comment, I will say that even when guys don’t play, they are out there taking infield everyday it isn’t raining.

                • I frankly find it hilarious that Tim is even out there taking cell phone video of this stuff..

                  • You have to see the performance in live action. Looking back on my own memories you had the batting practice heroes who crapped their pants when facing live pitching. In football we called them Tarzan-Janes….built like Tarzan, play like Jane.

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