Coaching in the Florida Complex League
Interview with Jose Salas and Vanessa Escanilla
Strength & Conditioning Coaches – Philadelphia Phillies
Most baseball fans are aware that the MLB has minor league affiliates at several levels, e.g., AAA, AA, A, etc., but unless there is a team in their home town or nearby, few understand how each level of minor league baseball is organized and how each operates. The PBSCCS contacted Jose Salas and Vanessa Escanilla, Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coaches for the Philadelphia Phillies and Co-FCL Strength Coaches of the Year, to provide first-hand information on what it’s like coaching professional baseball players in the Florida Complex League (FCL). The FCL, which was called the Gulf Coast League (GCL) before 2021, together with the Arizona Complex League (ACL), forms the lowest run on the North American minor league baseball ladder. It’s the Rookie-level circuit operated by Minor League Baseball that has been in existence in Florida since 1964.
PBSCCS: Tell us about the FCL season. How long is the season? How many games Where are the games played? How many teams are in the FCL?
COACHES: Teams play a 58-game schedule between June 28 and September 18. Most games are played at the minor league spring training complexes owned by the parent MLB teams and admission is free. The FCL consists of three divisions, East (Astros, Cardinals, Marlins, Mets and Nationals), North (Blue Jays, Phillies, Tigers East, Tigers West, Yankees) and South (Braves, Orioles Black, Orioles Orange, Pirates Black, Pirates Gold, Rays, Red Sox and Twins.
PBSCCS: Are there playoffs in the FSL?
COACHES: The FLC did not have playoffs in 2021. The Tampa Bay Rays were the top team in the FCL with a 42-15 record, but I hope the playoffs come back next year because players will feel they are playing for something.
PBSCCS: Some organizations have two teams. Can players within a given organization move from one team to another during the season, e.g., can a player on Pirate Black move to Pirate Gold or vice versa?
COACHES: It is up to each organization. We have only one team in 2021, but in the past were able to move players from one roster to another.
PBSCCS: How many players are there on each team and how many are pitchers?
COACHES: Teams have unlimited roster sizes, but no team can have more than three players with four or more years of minor league experience. MLB players on rehab assignments can also appear in the league. Pitchers come and go as they are promoted to other levels, but we will have 24 pitchers on any given days on the active roster.
PBSCCS: How many games do teams play each week and what do the players do on non-game days?
COACHES: We play five games a week. Sundays are always off, and then we have another non-game day that falls somewhere within the rest of the week. Non-game days are similar to game days, but consist of more individualized work and recovery is emphasized. Activities on non-game days are up to the manager’s preference, they could be completely off or just a regular practice day without the game.
PBSCCS: Are players expected to be at the complex every day, or are there scheduled days off? If so, how many days off do players typically get during the season?
COACHES: FCL players have 2 non-game days per week; a “camp day”, which is typically a shorter practice day, and a true off day every Sunday. Players do not have to report to camp on Sundays.
PBSCCS: What time of day are the games scheduled? What do the players do before and after the game?
COACHES: Games start at noon from Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, we play at 10am. Depending on the day, pre-game activity for position players consists of tissue preparation, strength training, open cage work, defensive work and batting practice. Pitchers who throw in the game will lift and participate in conditioning work after home games.
PBSCCS: How many pitchers are on a team? Are there pitch and/or inning limits for the pitchers and what are they?
COACHES: Pitchers will come and go as they are promoted to other levels, but we have had up 24 pitchers on the active roster. Individual pitchers have different pitch limits so, it is difficult to say exactly what the pitch count is for each pitcher. Most pitchers have inning limits, especially at the start of the season.
PBSCCS: How old are most of the players in the FCL? Can players play more than one season in the FCL? What is the next level of advancement for the players in the FCL?
COACHES: Players range in age from 18-23 and can play in more than one FCL. The next level of advancement is to our Low-A affiliate, Clearwater Threshers.
PBSCCS: What does a typical day look like for players in the FCL?
COACHES: A typical morning in the FCL consists of the strength and conditioning coaches mapping out the plan for the day, followed by staggered tissue prep time for position player and pitchers. Position players will lift post prep. The pitchers who are not throwing in a game that day will prep and then participate in outdoor conditioning work. Prior to the game, coaches will prepare electrolyte drinks and snacks for the players to help ensure that they stay hydrated and fueled throughout the day. Approximately 15 minutes before game time, position players will stretch, throw and perform a few high intensity sprints. Game day pitchers will perform arm-care routines, lift and condition after they come out of the game. Coaches enter daily workout information for each player into the organization’s data management system at the end of each day.
Players come in early in the morning, most guys are here before 7am. Pitchers usually start their day in the training room with arm care, and position players in the weight room with tissue preparation and a lift. From there, they go do different individual work in the cages and/or field for a couple hours, and they usually finish the morning session with some type of team work. Meanwhile, there are bullpen, simulated games, rehabilitation programs and meetings happening on adjacent fields or classrooms.
PBSCCS: For most players in the FCL, this is their first step in organized baseball and first time away from home. Are their programs to help players learn life skills and establish routines for training, nutrition, sleep, recovery, etc.?
COACHES: These are ones of the main responsibilities that we have as strength and conditioning coaches at this level. It is not only about conditioning the body, but also the player as a whole. Players are relatively young and sometimes just out of high school. They are nervous and worried because everything starts happening fast for them. It is our job to lead them to the right path of how to become the best professional players that they can be, and the strength coach is a big part of this.
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?
COACHES: The focus at the FCL level is on building a strong foundation of strength, conditioning and movement efficiency. Players work with us every day.
PBSCCS: Are players tested before, during or after the season to determine improvements in physical development and what tests are generally used?
COACHES: Players are tested during spring training, extended spring training and every month during the season in order to identify trends and red flags. Test data are also used to establish baseline values with which to determine status, identify weaknesses and monitor progress. Tests are administered to determine body composition, grip strength, vertical jump, standing long jump, reactive strength index and lateral hop.
PBSCCS: How many years have you been involved in the FCL 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?
SALAS: I have been working at this level for six years now. In only six years, I have seen players be more knowledgeable about their programs and baseball routine. They are definitely more inquisitive and want to know what we do or don’t do certain things. This is always a good challenge to have because it keeps me sharp on my skills. Another big change I have seen through the years is the inclusion of more technology in the weight room and on the field. This has made the training programs more objective and easier to understand for players, which has helped gain their attention and buy-in.
ESCANILLA – I just completed my third season with the Phillies. Along with the increased interest these players have in strength and conditioning, I have seen players from all over the globe work together, help one another, and learn about all the different cultures. I am most proud to be a part of the change in diversity.
PBSCCS: Where do the players live during the season and who arranges for their living accommodations?
COACHES: Our players stay at hotels near by the complex. The Phillies front office arranges for and pays 100% of the housing costs for players.
PBSCCS: Do players receive a daily meal allowance or does the team provide meals? If the team provides meals, how many meals are provided? Are meals provided on non-game, non-game days and away games?
COACHES: The Phillies provide 3 meals per day for home, road and non-game days.
PBSCCS: How often do players workout in the team training facility per week and what are the areas of emphasis for this age group?
COACHES: FCL players workout and/or play 6 days per week. Workouts are designed to improve general and sport-specific strength and fitness, enhance movement and correct deficiencies. Position players lift 4 times per week and condition 2 times per week. Pitchers will condition 5 times per week and lift 3-4 times per week depending on their throwing schedule.
PBSCCS: What unique opportunities and challenges have you experienced working with players in the FCL?
COACHES: This is a great level to work with. There are a lot of challenges and opportunities, but it all makes it more fun. For example, our players come from very different backgrounds, high school, college, Chinese, Latino, etc. which makes communication very important at this level; and I am not talking about speaking three or four different languages but the ability to gain the players’ trust, so that they know you are there for them and with them. One of the biggest opportunities at this level is the chance to be their first Strength and Conditioning coach, which means that each you coach and care about them, they will always care and look after you.
Jose Salas, CSCS and Vanessa Escanilla, CSCS are minor league strength and conditioning coaches for the Philadelphia Phillies FCL team. Jose has 6 years of experience in the FCL, Vanessa has 3. They were named PBSCCS 2021 Co-FCL Strength and Conditioning Coaches of the year along with Wyatt Briggs and Drew Skrocki (Mets) and Brandon Farish, Alexa Garcia and Mike Thompson (Orioles).