CLEARWATER, Fla. — Loud music blares inside the clubhouse and several players gather to watch an intense battle during another round of the team’s pingpong tournament.
There’s a different vibe surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies this spring.
New manager Gabe Kapler has brought a new-school philosophy, a ton of energy and plenty of positivity to an organization that needed revitalization after five straight losing seasons.
“He’s the man,” shortstop J.P. Crawford said. “He’s the reason why this clubhouse is like this. He makes everyone feel comfortable and everyone wants to fight for him. He cares so much about us and that translates to us wanting to play for him and win for him and it’s great to have a manager like that.”
Kapler’s only previous managerial experience came in 2007 when he took a season off from playing in the majors to lead Boston’s Class A affiliate. He also coached Team Israel during the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying period. But his progressive thinking was an attractive quality for Philadelphia general manager Matt Klentak.
Kapler has a fondness for analytics — an area the Phillies sorely lacked until Klentak came along. He embraces sports science to the point he had players start workouts at 11 a.m. early in camp to give them an extra hour of sleep. The staff is logging reps of everything from swings to throws to squats to sprints to make sure players don’t get overworked.
“We are going to focus on rest, recovery and our guys being the strongest versions of themselves,” Kapler said. “I don’t think there’s any value in getting to the ballpark when it’s dark just to get to the ballpark when it’s dark.”
Kapler is a believer in using video and pictures. He can be seen taking it himself on any of the practice fields.
“I think images are very powerful, video is very powerful and sharing images of people doing great work is a great way to endorse them,” he said.
The 42-year old Kapler is a fitness freak who is challenging some of the older traditions. For example, he doesn’t believe pitchers always have to run laps as if they’re training for a marathon because they need to be explosive for one pitch at a time.
“The game is always evolving and changing,” he said. “Pitchers understand they don’t always need to run super long distances to be explosive. Sprints are awesome and more interval training.
“We have to look at it scientifically and medically how do our bodies recover most effectively and then how does it affect us mentally and strike that healthy balance.”
Players have welcomed all the changes. They’ve bought into Kapler’s unconventional approach.
“He’s an amazing guy,” third baseman Maikel Franco said. “The positivity he has is all over the place. He has good communication with us, good relationships. He makes you feel comfortable and makes you feel all you have to do is go out there and play baseball. When you have confidence and play the right way, everything is going to be fine.”
Kapler’s message is: “Be Bold.” Those words are printed on red T-shirts players are wearing around the ballpark.
“The thought process is create an environment where people feel they can be bold and comfortable,” Kapler said. “We can win. We’re fighting for the NL East in September.”
The Phillies won only 66 games last year but were 37-38 after the All-Star break and 17-13 in the final 30 games. They have a talented group of young players on the rise.
The lineup could be dynamic with veteran first baseman Carlos Santana joining Crawford, slugger Rhys Hoskins, outfielders Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr, second baseman Cesar Hernandez, catcher Jorge Alfaro and Franco.
“We know we can win games,” Herrera said.
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