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Phillies adopt new culture to return to contention

First-year manager Kapler implores club to 'Be Bold'
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler's "Be Bold" mantra has become more than just a catchphrase for the new Phillies manager.

It has become a way of looking at things. It has become a way of doing things. It is why the Phillies are pushing positional versatility like never before. Hitting the pitcher eighth? It could become the norm. Moving Rhys Hoskins from left field to right for a batter or two throughout a game? By the end of the season, no Phillies fan will blink an eye when it happens.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler's "Be Bold" mantra has become more than just a catchphrase for the new Phillies manager.

It has become a way of looking at things. It has become a way of doing things. It is why the Phillies are pushing positional versatility like never before. Hitting the pitcher eighth? It could become the norm. Moving Rhys Hoskins from left field to right for a batter or two throughout a game? By the end of the season, no Phillies fan will blink an eye when it happens.

Be bold? Is there any other way to play, the Phillies ask?

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Gabe Kapler's system of managing

Before Grapefruit League games began late last month, Kapler initiated later start times to workouts to allow players more time to rest and recuperate. He put umpires behind home plate for bullpen sessions and live batting practice. He placed Bluetooth speakers around the concrete hallways at Spectrum Field, citing scientific evidence that music enhances mood and performance. He had team-building exercises, like chicken wing eating contests, talent shows and team dinners. He had folks like Carson Wentz, Ben Simmons and even Justin Timberlake wish the Phillies well in video messages.

Jason Kelce offered a pep talk. Hulk Hogan stopped by.

Everything is tailored toward creating a culture that allows players to be "the best versions of themselves."

What's the goal?
Kapler said last month that "if everybody on our roster takes a small step forward, we have an opportunity to shock people."

Kapler said that before the Phillies signed Jake Arrieta and put Scott Kingery on the Opening Day roster. Baseball Prospectus projects the Phillies will win 81 games. If they are playing .500 baseball in July, they have the talent in their farm system to make a trade that could push them into serious postseason contention. But Kapler wants more than just an NL Wild Card. He believes the Phillies can be chasing the Nationals for the NL East title.

Would that shock people? Absolutely.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Nola on conditioning, approach

What's the plan?
The Phillies will need a host of young, mostly inexperienced players to live up to the hype. That means Hoskins, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro follow through on promising rookie seasons. That means something clicks with Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta (or both). That means J.P. Crawford makes people quickly forget about Freddy Galvis. That means Aaron Altherr stays healthy and productive, which he was. That means the bullpen is a strength as expected. That means Kingery is the stud everybody already believes he will be.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Odubel's goals to improve

What could go wrong?
Concerns about the rotation beyond Aaron Nola and Arrieta prove to be justified. The high strikeout rates and low walk rates that followed Williams and Alfaro in the Minor Leagues catch up with them as big league pitchers adjust. Crawford does not take the step forward the front office expected when it traded Galvis to the Padres. Basically, not enough of the team's young players improve. In fact, they regress.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Phillies Chatter

Who might surprise?
The Phillies' front office agrees with the analytic community that Pivetta is a prime candidate for a breakout season. He has great stuff, and if he can put everything together he can create formidable trio with Nola and Arrieta. Would it be a surprise if Maikel Franco finally put things together? Probably. But there is no question this is a big season for him.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Franco on Santana, looking ahead

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.

Philadelphia Phillies