Camp Kapler is a-rockin' with new vibes, new concepts

Camp Kapler is a-rockin' with new vibes, new concepts

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It's still baseball here at Camp Kap. Hit the ball, catch the ball, get the (bleeping) job done, as Lee Elia once said. But under Gabe Kapler, things are just a little bit different.
The sound of music fills the air.
And the men in blue have already arrived.
Just before Phillies pitchers and catchers began their third workout of the spring Friday morning, three umpires, in full gear, emerged from the locker room at Spectrum Field and made the walk over to the Carpenter Complex.
Grapefruit League games don't start for another week, but umpires were on hand to call balls and strikes during pitcher bullpen workouts.
It was a first.
But then again, there will be a lot of firsts under Kapler, the high-energy, uber-positive, 42-year-old new-schooler hired as Phillies skipper in October.
"We're trying to find value at the margins," Kapler said. "How can we find the last little detail that gets us a tiny bit better and gives us one step forward?"
Friday's detail was umpires and batter's boxes painted in the bullpen.
"We're trying to create more game-like conditions," Kapler said.
The manager praised Craig Driver, the team's new bullpen catcher/receiving coach, for suggesting how "powerful" it would be to have umpires provide feedback to catchers on their ability to frame and keep pitches in the strike zone. And, of course, it doesn't hurt the pitchers to get some early feedback.
"I didn't know if I would like it at first, but I did," Jerad Eickhoff said after the workout.
He paused.
"Even though the guy squeezed me a couple of times," he deadpanned.
Kapler has a democratic approach. Pitchers could have said no to having an umpire. None did.
"It was a first for me," Aaron Nola said. "You've got the umpire and the white lines. They told us about it this morning. Everybody liked it."
The umpires were local professionals hired by the club. They will be back again.
While pitchers went through their workouts, music played on the speakers at Carpenter Complex. It is not unusual to have music playing during a workout. It happens nightly during batting practice in every Major League stadium. The Phillies have played music during spring training workouts in other years. Kapler has brought it to a new level. Players have complete input in what they want to hear. Classic rock. Some country. Latin. Pop.

"I want them to be inspired," Kapler said. 

The music is always on in the clubhouse and even in the hallways around the clubhouse.
"It makes every space not boring," said Wes Helms, the former Phillie who is back with the club as a coach at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
Helms played with the Phillies in 2007. He spent four seasons in Atlanta, where Braves manager Bobby Cox famously would not allow music in the clubhouse. Too many different guys with too many different tastes equaled too many problems, Cox believed. He required music-loving players to wear headphones. Cox won 14 division titles, a World Series and is in the Hall of Fame so it's difficult to argue with his methods. 
"The game has changed, the personality of players has changed," Helms said. "As a staff, we have to relate to them on their level so we can get more out of them on the field. I like it. It livens up the atmosphere."
That's Kapler's plan. Create a vibe that makes everyone want to move. Create a work environment that is fun.
"Oh, gosh," Kapler said. "This is a really passionate topic for me. I believe strongly that mood is enhanced by music. One of the ways we decide on the music is we ask all our players: 'What do you like to listen to? What makes you feel strong during your workouts?' We ask them after the workouts. 'Hey, how was the music today? More volume? Less volume? Did you hear something that you liked?'

"When we're surrounded by music, we feel good. We smile more. When we smile more, we're more relaxed at the plate. There is science behind this. It's not a theory. It's been studied. Workplaces are happier and they're more inspired when music is playing."
Kapler's passion for music is a family thing. His dad, Michael, is a piano teacher and classical musician.
"I grew up with music in my house all the time," he said. "And, if you ever come into my office, there will be music playing. In my home, I have music playing all the time. Mostly, because it makes me feel strong.
"If you come into my office, you might hear some John Lee Hooker or, early in the morning, some Norah Jones as I drink coffee. It's eclectic."
Umpires in the bullpen. The sound of music all over the facility. If it helps the Phillies have one more efficient workout here at Camp Kap, then it's all worth it.

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.