Kainoa Correa mastered the ability to combine old-school fundamentals, inherited from his grandfather Jimmy Correa, and modern age technology and analytics, the driving forces in today’s game, to land a job on a Major League Baseball roster.
The 2006 Waiakea graduate, who was the Cleveland Indians defensive coordinator in the minor leagues, was named the San Francisco Giants bench coach on Wednesday, joining new manager Gabe Kapler’s staff.
“I’m really excited. It’s every little kid’s dream to go the major leagues,” he said. “My research tells me I’m the second person from Hawaii to coach in the major leagues, after Mike Lum (Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals), and first part-Native Hawaiian.”
Wendell Kim, who was born in Hawaii, was Korean and Hawaiian and grew up in California. He coached for the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, and Chicago Cubs.
Correa made a name for himself teaching defense at his alma mater, Puget Sound, and later at Northern Colorado.
That’s how he got on Cleveland’s radar.
In the age of analytics, major league organizations are always looking for an advantage or someone who can sharpen their roster, and that’s how Correa’s name was added to the Giants coaching pool.
They started researching and vetting him, talking to players and doing tons of homework.
The success of Cleveland’s farm system also helped. He also knew Kapler during his time as the Philadelphia Phillies manager.
“The cool thing about pro baseball is that organizations are always evaluating and identifying coaches from other organizations,” he said. “There’s no applying for a big-league job. When a job opens, they develop their own candidate list and go from there. I’m fortunate that the system created this opportunity for me.”
In pro ball, new opportunities tend to lean upward. The Giants couldn’t hire Correa as their minor league defensive coordinator. That’s a lateral move. He’s set to sign a multi-year contract.
His wife, Brittany, gave birth to their daughter Avery Mae on Oct. 12 and the family resides in Arizona. Her family is from Denver.
The Giants hold spring training in Arizona, which works out perfectly as a home base.
“She’s at the right age to try it out,” Correa said. “Before she’s in preschool, we’ll have the portability to live in Arizona full-time during the offseason. We’ll move to San Francisco and live near the ballpark during the season. To be on the West Coast, living in Arizona, her family is from Denver, we’re fortunate to get those geography standpoints.”
Correa will see a familiar face in Kean Wong, whom the Giants claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels.
The Giants ranked tied for seventh in fielding percentage last season at .985 percent. The St. Louis Cardinals were first at .989, and the Indians also at .985.
The most cost-efficient way to improve a win total is by defense. Otherwise, good luck spending over $200 million trying to get a big-ticket free agent.
There have been managers and coaches who have never played MLB ball before, most notably Hall of Famer and former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver.
But with technology driving the game, batting coaches who understand launch angles and pitching coaches who are refined in biomechanics, that old barrier is breaking down.
Correa is in his own rarefied air. He’s the fifth current MLB coach who hasn’t played pro ball, out of roughly 240 MLB coaches.
“It’s shifted,” Correa said. “Dozens of coaches from college have gotten minor league jobs over the past two offseasons. But it’s wild being part of the first wave of those guys to get a chance to go to the major leagues.
“The cool thing for me is I’ve been successful the last three years with the old-school foundation put in place by my grandpa. With all the modern technology and analytics, the key is to marry the two. I understand the value of both.”
Correa will work with the infielders, on defensive positioning and assist in game management, things he’s been being doing all his life. The only difference is his players are the best in the world, so the approach is different.
“It’s about being a resource. Whatever the player needs, additional info or slight adjustments,” he said. “We’re talking about the one percent of the one percent. That doesn’t happen by accident.”
Neither did Correa’s landing spot in Oracle Park, as the Giants’ bench coach.
Correa is still flying back to Hilo to run his Friday Fielders infield camp at Waiakea High, which has sold out the last three years. It’ll be held Sunday, Dec. 22 at the Ken Yamase Memorial Stadium.
For information, visit fridayfielderscamps.com.