Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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Interview with Sergio Rojas

 Latin American Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, San Francisco Giants

Most baseball fans in the US are aware that the Dominican Summer League (DSL) is a branch of affiliated Minor League Baseball played in the Dominican Republic but not a lot more. The PBSCCS contacted Sergio Rojas, Latin American Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, San Francisco Giants to provide first-hand information on the DSL.

PBSCCS: Tell us about the DSL season. How long is the season? How many games Where are the games played? How many teams are in the DSL?

Rojas: Preparation for the DSL season starts in April. April and May are spring training for the DSL. The DSL season typically begins in June and ends in late August. The 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID and the start of the 2021 season was delayed until July 12 and ended in early October. For the 2021 season, 29 of the 30 MLB franchises fielded at least one farm team in the DSL, some fielded two. Teams are usually differentiated by suffixes such as Black and Orange or 1 and 2. There were 46 total teams in the DSL for 2021 and organized into six divisions: North, South, North East, North West, Baseball City and San Pedro. Each team plays a 72-game schedule. Games are played at team complexes in the DR.

PBSCCS: Are there playoffs in the DSL?

Rojas: The winners of the six divisions advance to the playoffs that run into the first week of September. 2019 was the last time there were playoffs. There were no post-season playoffs in 2021. Hopefully 2022 will provide some sort of playoff format.

PBSCCS: Some organizations have two teams. Is one team made up of players with higher skill levels or are they similar in skill level? Can players move from one team to another during the season?

Rojas: Most teams are made up in a variety of different ways, but for the most part they are created to get players as much playing experience as possible. Players can be transferred from team 1 to team 2 during the season. Different scenarios come up during the season, whether it be promotions, injuries, inning caps, etc.

PBSCCS: How many players are there on each team?

Rojas: Rosters are set at 35 for each team.

PBSCCS: Where do the players live during the season and are meals provided by the team?

Rojas: All MLB teams have academies in the DR. The Giants facility, the Felipe Alou Baseball Academy, named in honor of Felipe Alou’s distinguished career as a player, coach, manager and executive, is located Boca Chica. Players live and eat in the dormitory and train on adjacent fields year-round.

PBSCCS: How many games do teams play each week and what do the players do on off days?

Rojas: A 72-game DSL season normally runs for 12 weeks with 6 games a week with Sundays off. The 2021 season was modified to 5 games a week: Home/Away series on Monday and Tuesday, off day Wednesday, Home/Away series Thursday/Friday, and Saturdays the Giants Black played the Giants Orange.

PBSCCS: What time of day are the games scheduled?

Rojas: Week Day games start at 10:30 am. Saturday games start at 10:00 am. None of the academy fields have lights, but also game times are early in to avoid rain outs in the afternoon. 

PBSCCS: Are there pitch and/or inning limits for the pitchers and what are they?

Rojas: Pitch or inning limits are at the organization’s discretion. Most teams have a 5-man starting rotation. The DSL has an inning rule that correlates with days and games off that are required before being allowed to pitch in a game again. For example, if a reliever pitches 1 inning, he isn’t allowed to pitch the next day. If a reliever pitches 2 innings, he is not available for the next two days. That trend continues for 3 and 4 innings.

PBSCCS: How old are the players in the academy and do they play more than one season in the DSL? What is the next level of advancement for the players in the DSL?

Rojas: International players must be at least 16 years old when they sign with an organization. Each player’s duration at the DSL level is different. There have been higher signed players that go straight into ACL or FCL rookie ball. But, two DSL Seasons seem to be the average before being promoted to the next level to ACL/FCL rookie ball or Low-A.

PBSCCS: What does a typical day look like for players in the DSL?

Rojas: A normal day for a DSL player is 6:00 am-3:00 pm. Players have breakfast at the cafeteria and then report to the clubhouse. The training room opens for treatments and there is a morning group that lifts in the weight room. If a player is not part of the lifting group, there are a variety of movement prep programs in place for all players that lead into warm-up and practice that starts at 8:00 am and goes until 9:00-10:00 am depending on whether there is a 10:30 am game at home or on the road. Speed development is worked into practice sessions and we also have post-practice lifting groups. Depending on a player’s program, some have post-game lifts. Once the day is over, players have lunch and prepare to attend class with the education department in the afternoon/evening. They will then proceed to dinner and hang out in their dorm rooms or common living area to hang out, watch tv, or play video games.

PBSCCS: For most players in the DSL, this is their first step in organized baseball and first time away from home. Are their programs to help players learn English and life skills and establish routines for training, nutrition, sleep, recovery, etc.?

Rojas: Yes, players attend classes in the afternoon/evening. Teachers help them prepare for a GED (high school equivalency diploma) and learn English. Training and nutritional departments do a great job of providing educational resources to our players to enhance optimal performance. These programs are designed to help players in their careers and ease the transition to the US for Latin players.  

PBSCCS: What physical attributes do the strength and conditioning programs emphasize (strength, speed, agility, etc.) and how often do players work with strength and conditioning coaches?

Rojas: Players work with strength and conditioning coaches every day. Every day there is focus on warm-up, prep routines, weight room sessions, and speed/agility development. Speed development training is 5-6 times a week. Training sessions in the weight room are held 3-4 times a week.

PBSCCS: Are players tested before, during or after the season to determine improvements in physical development and what tests are generally used?

Rojas: Players are assessed year-round. We measure a variety of movement and performance metrics. How we interpret and apply these metrics can be different from other teams, but for the most part all teams probably utilize similar testing processes.

PBSCCS: Are the academies open year around and do the same players live there all year or do players come and go throughout the year?

Rojas: The academies are open year around. They are open and have a full staff for DSL Spring Training and the DSL Season. After completion of the DSL season, players return home to be with their families. There are also a variety of off-season camps that are hosted at our academy.

PBSCCS: How many years have you been involved in the DSL and what positive changes have you observed that have helped players adjust to life in professional baseball, general and baseball-specific conditioning and performance on the field?

Rojas: I am starting my fifth year as the Latin American Strength and Conditioning Coordinator and have been fortunate to see the ins and outs of the DSL and how academies should be operating to enhance player development. The most influential thing I’ve seen over my time is the resources that are being placed at the academy. If you want to produce the best MLB prospects, allocating resources for the best interest of the player at the end of the day will always win.

From a strength and conditioning standpoint, I believe it is essential to have certified strength and conditioning coaches at this level. This level is very unique for a professional organization. I believe it is an opportunity to take advantage of the young training age and push for physical development.

I suggest that any coach that wants to work in professional baseball as a strength and conditioning, hitting coach, pitching coach, etc., should try to start at the DSL. This isn’t just an opportunity for player development, it’s also an opportunity for coaching development. MLB has a significant number of Latin players and I believe that we should encourage more non-Latin staff to be involved at this level to help the organization understand the function of the DSL, appreciate the Latin culture and learn Spanish. Latin players and coaches are encouraged to learn English and American coaches should be encouraged to learn Spanish. The benefits a coach can get from coaching in the DSL are priceless.

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Sergio Rojas, CSCS, is a minor league strength and conditioning coach and the Latin American Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the San Francisco Giants.

 

 

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