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Winter Meetings interview with Gabe Kapler

MLB.com

Q. What's your last six weeks been like?

GABE KAPLER: Exhilarating. Challenging. Most of it has been spent on putting together the most dynamic and effective staff that we possibly can. I think that's been a successful venture thus far. Not quite complete. We're still working on a first base coach. Those interviews are happening the last couple of days and have kept us all up a little bit later than we expected. But everything has been going really well. Thanks for asking.

Q. How many players on the current roster have you gotten to meet or talk to in the last few weeks?

Q. What's your last six weeks been like?

GABE KAPLER: Exhilarating. Challenging. Most of it has been spent on putting together the most dynamic and effective staff that we possibly can. I think that's been a successful venture thus far. Not quite complete. We're still working on a first base coach. Those interviews are happening the last couple of days and have kept us all up a little bit later than we expected. But everything has been going really well. Thanks for asking.

Q. How many players on the current roster have you gotten to meet or talk to in the last few weeks?

GABE KAPLER: So I've had some in-person meetings, somewhere between north of six and south of nine. I don't know the exact number. I have had a handful of conversations on the phone, and I've at least touched base, either via What's App with some of our Spanish speakers or text message with a lot of our American players. So I've touched base with everybody and had varying degrees of connection so far.

Q. Have you went down to Dominican recently?

GABE KAPLER: Went down to Dominican, stopped in Miami. In Miami, I got a chance to meet with Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera and some of his family, and then I got to go to the DR and spend some time with Neris and Garcia. Got a chance also to witness Franco on the field taking some batting practice and working on his stroke, which looks really, really good, making some adjustments down there. His effort level looks like it should look. Really exciting stuff going on down.

Q. Why was it important to go down to Miami and the Dominican, specifically, I guess?

GABE KAPLER: It was specifically important to go down to Miami and the Dominican because 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.

It's right around the corner. Spring Training starts very, very soon. I wish it was starting tomorrow, but when Spring Training rolls around, I already want those connections established and relationships in place.

Q. What exactly is the change that Franco's made with his stroke, and who initiated that?

GABE KAPLER: So he's working down there with our Latin American field coordinator, but I think, if you really want to get down to who initiates a change in a player's stroke, 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.

Q. It's been a week since you've been hired. Is there anything you've been doing to, I guess, learn about what these guys have been doing on the field the last couple seasons? Have you been watching video of any of these guys, or what have you been doing to see where they are at this point in their careers?

GABE KAPLER: I think the best way for me to find out what our players are up to is by asking them. Additionally, asking some of our great player development staff about what they worked on in the past with these players.

I've spent quite a bit of time looking at video and finally spending time on some numbers, which I really enjoy. I've always liked digging into what makes a player good at his job and really focusing on the positives, right?

I think traditionally in player development, traditionally major league staff looked to find out what players are doing wrong, and I think there's a whole lot of room for us to look at things they're doing very, very well, point out those things to our players and identify them with a lot of conviction so that they feel like we're behind them. If I've been doing nothing else, it's been trying to dig into what our players do very, very well.

Q. What's the best piece of advice you've gotten since you got the job, and who gave that to you?

GABE KAPLER: I would say this morning I had some really meaningful conversation with Pat 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 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. But how effective Charlie's approach was and his easy going 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.

Q. Joe Maddon was talking today about how he's been talking to you on the phone and seeing you, and you mentioned you watched what he did when you were playing for him. Did he give you any advice? I guess, what have those conversations been like?

GABE KAPLER: It's really interesting, and this is very similar to the way it was when I played for Joe. 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 very comfortable being different and has been extraordinarily successful being different.

It's not just the words that Joe says, it's the support that he gives you through the way he looks at you, the way he touches you. He's a pretty powerful individual.

Q. Where will Gabe Kapler be different? Or how will Gabe Kapler be different?

GABE KAPLER: You know, this is another extraordinary conversation I had today with Joe Torre. I had a one-on-one conversation with Joe. 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. I'm going to lean on the expertise of our staff. Putting together a staff with a lot of diversity of thought. And I'm going to lean on those varying degrees of experience and different ways of looking at and solving problems.

Joe talked about not being afraid to lean on those guys.

Q. What do you think -- I don't know how much you've analyzed the roster. What do you think the team's greatest need is right now as we're almost halfway through the winter here?

GABE KAPLER: I think the team's greatest need is to have everybody develop just a little bit from where they were last year. So we have this really exciting core of young players in their mid-20s who in many ways are establishing themselves as major league players. And we saw some pretty significant steps forward in the second half. If we see that -- those guys taking those steps forward like they did in the second half plus one tick up in development, I think we're looking at a pretty healthy opening day roster. When I say healthy, I don't mean like healthy on the field, but strong and capable.

Yeah, and I think what's very cool is we have a lot of flexibility to move our infield pieces around, by way of example. I think there's a lot of exciting things to point to.

Q. You talked in 2015 about rules and not being a big fan of rules and believing that a player would be better without rules. What's a baseball team kind of look like without rules, and how would you implement that in Spring Training?

GABE KAPLER: 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 by way of example, if you don't have a rule about facial hair, and a man comes to the ballpark and his facial hair is down to his belly button, we might just say, hey, this is how this looks to your teammates. There's no rule against not having a beard down to your belly button, but I just want to hold up an accurate mirror for you. People are going -- society passes judgment, whether we like it or not. So it's almost like every decision you make in a Major League Baseball clubhouse has repercussions.

So one of the ways that you sort of police it is by challenging. And when people aren't living up to expectations, it's sharing that there's no rule against what you just did; however, there is a consequence for the action, and here's what it is. It's not always the same. It's not always that you pull a guy out of the game. It might be that he might lose his teammate in the locker next to him. His teammate might have less confidence in him because of that decision.

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.

Q. Gabe, you mentioned the core. Assuming nothing happens this off-season with movers, how do you see the infield playing out? You mentioned rotating. Could you talk about that?

GABE KAPLER: I see that as a huge advantage. Let's say we have Caesar and J.P. and Freddy and Franco, I think it's an advantage to those guys because we're going to have a unique opportunity to put them in positions to succeed by matching them up effectively.

Circling back to Joe Maddon, I think one of the things he's done really, really well with the Cubs is used all of his players and given them blows effectively to keep them healthy. But also by the end of the year, their numbers are stronger. They perform better because they were matched up more efficiently and more effectively.

I actually see it as a win, win, win. Win for the Phillies because we have the best lineup on the field most of the time. A win for the players because they end up putting up better numbers at the end of the year. And just like a win for all of us collectively. So I see it as, from my perspective, I think it's good for all of us.

Q. You don't think it's a problem selling to a player who used to play every day that he may not be playing every day?

GABE KAPLER: You see, it still turns out to be playing regularly. While it might not be -- it may not be -- again, no absolutes here. It may not be 162. This is really regular playing time. It's just moving around a little bit and getting an effective blow. I don't think it's a difficult sell to a player when you can sit them down and say, here's how it's been done with the Cubs, and here's how it was done with the Dodgers, and here's what these players accomplished at the end of the year.

And it's not just a team goal of going to the playoffs or winning a World Series, it's the individual goals and how some of those like on base percentage numbers improve, how guys stay healthier over the course of time because they're not worn down. I just don't see that as being a difficult sell. I see that as being a pretty effective and direct sell.

Q. I know there was a lot of talk when you were with the Dodgers and the nutrition and all that stuff. Is that something that you're planning to do as manager and implement those same philosophies and strategies, I guess?

GABE KAPLER: I would say that the philosophy and the strategy is educate, educate, educate. Present our players with the best possible options, the most nutrient dense options, and then say, here are how these nutrients work in your body and how they have a chance to make you a more effective baseball player. Now go choose. You're grown-ups.

And I think that's one of the things, sort of talking through the rules concept, grown-ups don't like to be -- in my opinion, grown-ups don't like being told what to do. They like to be given choices and given the chance to make sensible ones. It doesn't always play out the way you expect it to, but I think through a relentless approach of educating, educating, educating, you get there over the course of time.

Q. Players that are better athletes. With all the information available, do you think they're mentally better than ever before? Do they understand the game better?

GABE KAPLER: I do because I believe in the concept of, as we acquire more information and as our bodies -- as human beings, as we evolve, I think we do become bigger, faster, stronger, more intelligent. And there's more information out there. If we're effective at delivering that information, if we do it in bite-sized chunks and we share it with a lot of conviction -- some degree of coaching is sales. So if we sell the information well and market it well, yeah, I do think mentally players become stronger. They become better equipped to manage their matchups, by way of example. They're more confident and convicted in delivering a pitch or taking a pitch, for example, as well.

Q. Do you see your bullpen pieces as interchangeable as opposed to pitchers fitting into this is my seventh inning guy, this is my eighth inning guy, this is my closer?

GABE KAPLER: So right now, I still want to get to Spring Training and watch these guys in person. So it's undoubtedly true that I believe that a bullpen and a roster and a lineup works best when players are feeling like flexibility is the way to go.

So rather than I am the 3 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.

Q. Is that part of a pitch to maybe prospective free agents and whatnot, like letting them know, if you come here, you might have done it this way in your career, this previous team or whatever, but this might be a little bit different?

GABE KAPLER: I think the pitch to free agents -- and actually, the pitch to our own players -- is we're going to put you in the best possible position to succeed. You, and yes the Phillies 100 percent, but just as importantly you. You are going to be healthier. We are going to match you up better so your numbers look stronger. And theoretically, you put more money away, which is an ambition of a lot of the players, certainly on the free agent market. But the guys that we're going to have in our clubhouse, they're going to want to make dough.

So that's why. It's like it's kind of cool. It's unique. You're going to make more money, theoretically. We're going to win more baseball games, theoretically. Your numbers are going to be better, theoretically.

Q. This is going to be an important year for Franco in terms of his future with the organization. He's one of the few guys that are going to be having his third hitting coach in three years. As a guy that's played for multiple teams and coaches, I guess what are the challenges for a guy that's had so much change as a young player and as you try and get this guy on track?

GABE KAPLER: I think the challenges are keeping himself as strong as he possibly -- this goes for Franco, but it goes for all of our players. Keeping themselves as strong as they possibly can physically. There's nothing more critical. There's nothing more consequential than our health. And if we are healthy, that means our hips are flexible, our ankles are flexible, we're able to execute the swing that we want to get off. So I think that's a challenge for all of our players.

There's no question that there are some mechanical changes that our players can and will make under our staff as well. I think John Mallee has a pretty strong track record of impacting hitters, just by way of example, both mechanically and from an approach perspective. He did a pretty good job with some of those young Cubs hitters. I think our players like Franco are going to be in pretty good hands.

Q. Gabe, it wasn't that long ago that you were a player. When you decided managing was what you wanted to follow, what were some of the areas you decided to hone in? Is it player evaluation, analytics, player relations? What is it that really won the Phillies over?

GABE KAPLER: I would say the area I'm most passionate about is environment building, it's about culture building. I don't think, when you think about it as like one -- let's win a World Series title in '17-'18. It's how do we get to a ten-year stretch of excellence? How do we, in that ten-year stretch of excellence, also create an environment where our players love coming to the ballpark to work every single day and where our staff feels like they're not stepping on each other's toes and they don't have to, like, push each other out of each other's lanes. Rather they're inviting each other in to make really good decisions together.

So it's an environment building. Like we want to create an environment that encourages our players to grow. The analogy that I've used and will continue to use is the coaching staff, the front office, all of the various departments around a baseball organization are the soil and our players are the plants and the trees that are going to grow in that soil. So that soil has to be extremely nutrient dense.

So as I think about managing a ball club, I think about being really nutrient dense soil. Does that answer that question directly?

Q. Sort of. You addressed kind of like in more general terms of what you like, but as you finished your career, were there areas where you thought, okay, I need to learn more about this so one day I can become a manager? What were the things that were being part of that transition to becoming a manager? Was it player relations?

GABE KAPLER: I would say it's everything across the board. Look, I'm not by any stretch trying to not answer the question directly. I just think there's tons to learn. Like, sure, I wanted to know what advanced metrics would help be most predictive. Yes, I wanted to sop up all the experience about how to teach a guy to be in an athletic position when he fielded a ground ball.

Of course I wanted to learn, from an offensive perspective, how to get the bat in the zone and keep it in the zone a really long time. I wanted to learn how the best managers relate to their players. I want to be open minded enough to listen to a field staff.

I don't think there was the one thing, if that's more helpful. I think it was everything. I wanted to just like soak up all of the information.

Q. Of the experience you've had with player development the last few years, how do you see that applying to what you're doing?

GABE KAPLER: So player development -- so Joe Jordan is our farm director here with the Phillies. He's sensational. I think Joe would tell you that leading that big of a group of people -- so 250 players plus so many field staff, and you have to manage up and down. So your farm director, your boss is the general manager, but you're also dealing with your field coordinator that's sort of your field general. There's players all the way from the Dominican Republic all the way to the major leagues, and your phone is blowing up all the time. So you're getting text messages from these guys day and night.

It could be something as simple as like my grandmother passed away and dealing with that effectively, to something much more baseball driven like something with their swing that they're working on.

So the way that's applicable to a dugout is it's leadership. You have to lead a big group of people and be available to and selfless and not think about yourself at all and always be thinking about the players. So I think that's perfectly -- the farm director position is perfectly analogous with the major league manager in that regard.

Q. There's some low key, laid back kind of personalities on the team, and you're an intense guy. As you've started to kind of get to know some of the players, what do you see as some of maybe the challenges in connecting with some of those guys who are good clubhouse guys but not be able to match that intensity level?

GABE KAPLER: I'd say the baseball clubhouse is very much an extension of society. So there's all sorts of personalities, and we reach each other in all kinds of different ways. Look, I might not be able to reach every player, but that's why you build a really dynamic staff. You lean on the guys standing next to you. Maybe it's Rob Thompson who has the best connection with a couple of guys. And maybe we develop road maps together on how to have effective conversations with somebody who's a little more laid back and won't respond to my level of intensity. Or maybe I have to make an adjustment. So instead of coming into a conversation with a whole bunch of intensity, I come into a conversation with a much more calm, easy demeanor.

It's sort of how we navigate society. You read somebody. You look in somebody's eyes. And you change your approach based on their personality. The opposite never works, which is expecting them to adjust to you.

Q. Hanukkah starts in about 35 minutes. What's the top of your wish list?

GABE KAPLER: Top of my Hanukkah wish list?

Q. As it pertains to Winter Meetings as you embark on this journey baseball-wise. What's the top of your wish list?

GABE KAPLER: Sleep. No.

I've gotten such a tremendous level of support from the community, the fans in Philadelphia, from our front office, from the various departments in the Phillies organization. If I could just have like continued support, that would be a pretty awesome gift. Independent of the holiday.

Q. Gabe, you mentioned Charlie Manuel, and you and he had sort of a different spectrum of success in Japan.

GABE KAPLER: You mean he had success and I didn't?

Q. You can take it any way you want. But you had that fine spring, and everything was very positive. What did you take away from that experience in Japan? And another question is did it inform your perspective and your philosophy on rules with that team?

GABE KAPLER: Sure. I'll answer the first question first. I learned, first of all, that I love the culture in Japan. I had an incredible experience off the field. I just happened to perform really poorly on the field and not be super healthy. But I did feel like I got a tremendous level of support, and if I could go back and do that all different, I would not have had one foot in the United States and one foot in Japan, which I think was something that I wish I could do again. I would have given all of my effort and attention to being the best baseball player in Japan that I could have been.

In my mind, I was thinking about performing well for a year or two in Japan and then coming back and performing in the United States, instead of being really present and really taking advantages of the gifts that I was given by the Yomiuri Giants, who treated me like gold.

 

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