The Phillies have been in camp for a little under one week, and in that time we’ve already been offered a number of interesting glimpses into the management style and general behavior of Gabe Kapler.
Here’s Vince Velasquez on Kapler’s workout regimen, per Matt Breen:
“We’ll be standing in the weight room just having a normal conversation and next thing you know, there’s four plates on each side. Like, gosh, what is he doing that we’re not doing, you know? I love it.”
Here’s Matt Gelb on players taking snaps out of position.
Here’s Kapler using his phone to record video of player performance.
Here’s the bit about actual umpires being called in to call balls and strikes for pitchers during bullpen sessions.
Here’s the bit about all the music being played on the fields.
Here’s the video of Kapler acting like a little kid in a little league dugout during a spring training bullpen session.
And here’s Matt Mullin on the many things Kapler is doing differently than at your typical spring training: Practices that start later in the morning, in part to respond to body clocks and in part because the field is dry; giving players off days after particularly harder practice sessions; treating every single player different, in a way of meeting them where they are; and all that talk about playing “boldly.”
Here’s a quote:
“One of the questions I’ve been asking a lot of our players is, ‘What does it mean to play boldly?’ What does it mean to deliver a pitch boldly, what does it mean to take a swing in the batters box boldly, what does it mean to communicate boldly? And what I’ve gotten in return is: with conviction, with fearlessness, courageously, with intent.”
When speaking about expectations, he didn’t flinch in saying he thinks his team will compete for a National League East title in September. He didn’t even use qualifiers that singled out positions or players, such as “If we get more innings from our rotation” or “If Maikel Franco turns into a star.” Instead it was a statement about the whole team stepping just a little forward. To Kapler, the effort – not even the buy-in, because if you ask Kapler, he isn’t selling this – should be from all corners. The team as a unit matters more than any one player, even as Kapler is determined to treat every player in a way comfortable to him.
I’d imagine that, for a ballplayer, a fresh environment where the manager is energetically spilling his thoughts about boldness and expectation can be quite intoxicating. It could also be overbearing, but we’re only a week into this thing. Still, you see the quote from Velasquez, and you hear that Carlos Santana and Franco are already joined at the hip, and you read about Pat Neshek wanting to return to Philadelphia, even spurning higher offers, and you have to believe there’s something to this.
Just read about Velasquez, who of all players has spoken the most about the Kapler effect. It makes sense – from what we know of Velasquez, he’s an energetic, slightly eccentric guy who can’t stop talking about how he feels, especially when he’s struggling. Guys like that – and I’m one of them – sometimes need a mentor who speaks his language and can be a cheerleader, critic and buddy, all at once. Kapler, who has kept in touch with the pitcher throughout the offseason, seems fine tuned to Velasquez. Now Velasquez has a goal of throwing 200 innings in 2018. Hey, we’ll see when the pitches hit the mitt, but this positive behavior is a welcome sign for a guy who has the potential to be a top-line starter.
Heck, think about it – Velasquez was at his absolute best extremely early in his tenure in Philadelphia. With more losing, a rash of tough outings and a mass of confusing information, Velasquez only worsened. It’s possible he only needs to simplify, focus and stick to what he does best: pump fastballs and mix in a breaking ball or two. Again, we’ll see, but this is a great sign early on.
Want more? How about Kapler on Odubel Herrera, who arrived at camp with bronze dreadlocks and goatee. Kapler is oozing with praise over Herrera’s performance and attitude. He spun Herrera’s lapses on the field into praise about Phillies fans. He’s holding Herrera as an example for how to play boldly and how to play with a positive demeanor. That’s great, especially considering Herrera is among the highest-paid players on the roster. The Phillies need him to set the table and set the example as the character who defines this squad.
It’s only been a few days, but already there’s a sense that this Phillies team is going to be different from any that came before. We might chuckle at some of Kapler’s quotes. We might question some of the tactics. But we might also see Velasquez turn into an ace, and we might also see Herrera turn into one of the top outfielders in the game, bar none. We might have a team that we’ll love because they play hard and fierce, never with fear and always – yes – boldly.