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Kapler racks up miles to meet with players

Phillies' manager starts new job by making connections
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler has spent his first few weeks as Phillies manager connecting. He is big into connecting.

Kapler spoke with reporters for 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings. He discussed a variety of topics, including Maikel Franco's revamped swing, a potentially progressive use of the bullpen, rules (or lack thereof) in the clubhouse and conversations about managing with Pat Gillick, Joe Maddon and Joe Torre.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler has spent his first few weeks as Phillies manager connecting. He is big into connecting.

Kapler spoke with reporters for 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings. He discussed a variety of topics, including Maikel Franco's revamped swing, a potentially progressive use of the bullpen, rules (or lack thereof) in the clubhouse and conversations about managing with Pat Gillick, Joe Maddon and Joe Torre.

Kapler also talked about his efforts to contact as many players as possible before Spring Training. He recently traveled to Miami, where he met with Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera's family, and to the Dominican Republic, where he met with Franco, Hector Neris and others.

Here are Tuesday's highlights:

On traveling to Miami and the Dominican: 
"Most of what I'm trying to accomplish is building connections and relationships with all of our players, like independent of what part of the world they come from. It takes some effort to go spend that time and make those deeper connections, but at some point, those connections are going to be important."

On his conversation with Gillick:
"He walked me through his view of Lou Piniella, his view of Charlie Manuel, who he spoke incredibly highly of. He talked about Cito [Gaston] a little bit, and how those three managers touched their players every single day and went out of their way to establish connections in very different ways. How effective Charlie's approach was and his easygoing demeanor. Talked a little bit about how Lou would walk around the field every single day during batting practice and touch his players and make a connection. Obviously, Lou did it in a pretty intense way, but it was nice to see, it was nice to have Pat walk through -- obviously, he's seen everything in the game -- and have him walk through his experience with those managers."

On phone conversations with Maddon:
"It was less about what he was saying and much more about the energy that he conveyed, which is you belong, you're going to be good at this, and trust yourself. Oh, one of the things he said, which will always stay with me, is don't be afraid to be different. Obviously, I need to hear that from a guy like Joe who sort of has historically dared to be different and is very comfortable being different and has been extraordinarily successful being different."

On how Kapler will be different:
"I had a one-on-one conversation with Joe [Torre]. Joe talked about caring, and Joe's vulnerable and shared that that's a really good thing. I think that will be an area that I might be a little bit different, is just exposing some vulnerability. I'm not perfect. I'm going to make mistakes."

Video: Kapler on process since being hired, coaching staff

On a 2015 blog post that said he is not a fan of rules in the clubhouse
"So, not having rules doesn't mean not having expectations. Not having rules doesn't mean not demonstrating to a player where he needs to improve.

"So it's interesting with the Dodgers in player development, where I was coming from, we didn't have any rules, and what we found is very rarely did players break the traditional rules. You'd talk to them. A guy didn't show up on time, we had that conversation. Everybody knew that it wasn't acceptable. You actually don't have to post a list of rules on the wall for there to be a philosophical agreement that we have expectations."

On who suggested adjustments to Franco's swing:
"It's always the player. In this particular case, I think Franco deserves all the credit for wanting to improve on his performance last year. I think there's a ton of room for growth both on defense and with the bat, and I think that's something that he would share as well. He's a very dynamic player with a tremendous ceiling, and he's in the process of working towards tapping his potential."

Video: Kapler on Franco's potential and his offseason work

On interchangeable roles in the bullpen:
"It's undoubtedly true that I believe that a bullpen and a roster and a lineup work best when players are feeling like flexibility is the way to go. So rather than, 'I am the three-hole hitter' and 'I am the left fielder,' they think of themselves as a baseball player that can move around the diamond and move around the lineup because, again, that gives us the best chance to match them up and put them in a position to succeed, and it gives the Phillies the best chance to win a championship. A lot of this has to do with me getting to know the players better and the roster and learning about the strengths of our players. Some of that is just going to be getting to know them in Spring Training. But the mindset can and will be one of flexibility, and I am not married to any specific role because that isn't mental toughness. If I can only do one thing, that's not a very mentally tough way to start."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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