Phillies

Despite losing out to Kapler, Dusty Wathan 'all-in' with Phillies

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Photo: Reading Fightin Phils

Despite losing out to Kapler, Dusty Wathan 'all-in' with Phillies

Dusty Wathan got the news from general manager Matt Klentak on Sunday. He'd lost out to Gabe Kapler in the Phillies' manager derby.
 
Truth be told, there was a moment of disappointment for Wathan, as there should have been for anybody who makes his living in a competitive industry. But not long after, his naturally upbeat personality took over. He has spent the last 10 seasons trying to make the Phillies a better organization. And that's what he'll do in 2018.
 
"I'm a very positive guy," Wathan said Tuesday morning, the day after the Phillies officially announced that Kapler had been hired as the 54th manager in club history, succeeding Pete Mackanin, who had been reassigned to the front office last month. "I feel like this organization is on the cusp of big things. I feel like I've been a part of that and I'm looking forward to continuing to be a part of it.
 
"Matt and I had some good talks. Obviously, he thought Gabe was the right guy and I'm all-in. I want to see these kids do well and I'm going to do everything I can to see them have success. I'm good with this. I respect the decision and hope it works out for our organization."
 
Wathan, 44, has managed in the Phillies' improving minor-league system for the past 10 seasons. He was Eastern League manager of the year at Double A Reading in 2015 and 2016 and earned a promotion to Triple A Lehigh Valley in 2017. He helped in the development of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and a host of others who arrived in the majors in 2017 or are on their way, promising players such as second baseman Scott Kingery who the franchise hopes will make up the team's next winning core and, frankly, make Kapler look good.
 
Wathan is under contract to manage back at Lehigh Valley in 2018. He is eager to continue in that role — unless he's asked to be part of Kapler's coaching staff.
 
"They still have a lot of stuff going on with Gabe's announcement and everything, but at some point in the next few weeks we'll be talking," Wathan said. "I'm going to be here in some capacity helping the Phillies next year. Whatever happens, I feel I have the opportunity to be part of something special in the future. There will be some guys in Lehigh Valley next year and below that still need to develop if we want to get to where we want to be as an organization, and I'm excited to be part of that."
 
Wathan was a finalist for the job along with former Boston skipper John Farrell. All of the finalists went through two intense rounds of interviews that concluded Friday. There will be a news conference after the World Series to unveil Kapler; he is director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers and they are still playing in the Series.

During the news conference, Klentak will surely be asked what separated Kapler from the rest of the candidates. Kapler is highly literate in analytics and he brings an outside perspective to the organization, two qualities that have been stressed from ownership on down over the last two-plus years.
 
Was Wathan too "inside" for the Phillies?
 
"I don't think so," Wathan said. "Gabe and I have different personalities. The relationship between a general manager and a manager is the most important in an organization and sometimes it's just a personal feel. I know the players a lot, but there's more to it than that."
 
Was he analytically driven enough?
 
"I can only speak for myself," Wathan said. "I enjoy the analytical side of the game. When I broke in, it had just started and we were behind. But we've caught up and I've learned it as we've gone on."
 
A few weeks ago, at the end of the Phillies' season, Wathan received strong endorsements for the position from young players such as Hoskins and Crawford. He believes those players will continue to thrive under Kapler.
 
Wathan still has the goal of managing in the majors someday, just like his dad, former Kansas City Royals catcher John Wathan, did. He speaks to his dad frequently and both believe that being considered so strongly for the Phillies job was a positive.
 
"At the end of the minor-league season I had no idea the job would even be open," Wathan said. "So to go through this experience, to have my name brought up and to have the opportunity to be interviewed, can only help me. Interviews for major-league manager jobs don't come around every day.
 
"I won't lie, Sunday was a little difficult. When you're so close to a goal you've had your whole life ...

"But I've been around this game a long time and I know there's a winner and a loser every day. That's how it is. But still, I don't look at myself as a loser in this. It's gratifying that the organization gave me a look."

Gabe Kapler eats a big steak, watches a big arm during trip to Reading

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Gabe Kapler eats a big steak, watches a big arm during trip to Reading

Gabe Kapler, manager of the 14-7 Phillies, took a busman’s holiday Monday and ventured up Rt. 422 to watch the Double A Reading Fightin Phils play the Akron Rubber Ducks. (Actual name.)

Before the game, Kapler enjoyed an “incredible” 20 oz. rib eye — medium rare — at one of Reading’s fine steakeries. (The name eluded him.) He then headed over to the ballpark, fedora perched stylishly atop his head, and watched the Fightins beat the Cleveland Indians’ Double A club, 8-4.

“I thought it was the right thing to do to support (Reading manager) Greg Legg and the work that he is doing,” Kapler said of his trip to Reading. “Our player development staff is so incredibly invested in what we’re doing here and they deserve a lot of credit for the start that we’re off to. Their fingerprints are all over this major-league club and we’re in this together. Player development is an unsung department in an organization and those guys deserve a lot of love and credit for what is happening here.”

Kapler was impressed with several of Reading's players.

“I saw some cool things,” he said before the big Phillies got back to work Tuesday night. “Zach Coppola and his effort on the bases. He drove a ball to left-center field with a beautiful swing. And he gave his body for the club on defense when he crashed into the wall full speed. That was really impressive.

“I saw (Zach) Green hit a home run.

“And Seranthony was sensational. It was nice to see him.”

Seranthony Dominguez, a 23-year-old power-armed right-hander from the Dominican Republic, is making the transition from starter to reliever this season. He has opened the season with 18 strikeouts and two walks in his first 12 innings. He pitched a perfect inning Monday night with Kapler looking on.

Dominguez, a potential closer down the road, had previously impressed Kapler during a stint in big-league camp this spring.

Kapler was asked if he believed Dominguez could help the big club this season.

“He’s definitely got the talent,” Kapler said. “He’s definitely got the demeanor. And one of the things I mentioned yesterday as I was watching him was when we went out for mound visits (during spring training), this was a guy that was completely composed, in some ways similar to the way Scott Kingery’s heartbeat is. He was always very cool, calm and collected. Then to come up and dial up 97, 98 (mph) with a nasty slider — those two things in combination lead me to believe he can make an impact.”

A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

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A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

The spectacular beginning of Rhys Hoskins’ major-league career can be traced to a conversation he had with two members of the Phillies’ player-development department back in September 2014.

Hoskins had arrived in the Phillies organization earlier that year as a fifth-round draft pick out of Sacramento State University. That summer, he made his professional debut at Williamsport of the New York-Penn League. He hit .237 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 70 games.

Phillies instructors liked what they saw of Hoskins that summer. They loved the potential. But something was missing.

“He didn’t consistently get his weight back,” director of player development Joe Jordan recalled. “His legs weren’t in his swing every night. The timing, the bat speed and swing path were all good, but they weren’t consistent every night.”

After the Williamsport season ended, Hoskins reported to the Florida Instructional League in Clearwater. He was hitting off a tee, by himself, in a batting cage early one morning when Jordan and Andy Tracy, the team’s minor-league hitting coordinator, approached him with an idea.

“What do you think about making a change to your stance?” Jordan asked Hoskins.

Hoskins, thoughtful, respectful, mature, coachable, eager to learn and just as eager to succeed, was all ears.

“I was open to anything,” he said.

On that September day in 2014, during a conversation in a batting cage in Clearwater, Hoskins’ left leg kick was born.

He has used it to trigger his swing ever since.

And …

“It’s made all the difference in my career,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

The Phillies, off to a 14-7 start, enjoyed an off day Monday. That provides us with a neat little checkpoint on Hoskins’ big-league career, which is just 71 games old, less than a half-season. He arrived in the majors on Aug. 10. Since then, he ranks first in the majors in RBIs (67) and pitches seen (1,376), third in walks (56), fourth in OPS (1.038) and times on base (126), and sixth in extra-base hits (36). His 22 home runs rank fifth in the majors in that span behind J.D. Martinez (27), Giancarlo Stanton (25), Aaron Judge (23) and Matt Olson (23).

Hoskins was no slouch at Sacramento State. He was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 2014, the year the Phillies drafted him. But even his college coach admitted last summer that the leg kick had taken Hoskins to a new level (see story).

There are a number of benefits to the leg kick, Hoskins said. Among them: It slows him down a little. If he gets his leg up early, it allows his eyes to work and that helps his pitch recognition. It helps his rhythm and timing. It gets him on his backside and gives him a loading mechanism that translates into power when he fires through the ball.

“I had no prior experience with it before Joe and Andy mentioned it,” Hoskins said. “I had no clue what I was doing with it. I was super spread out in my stance. I would get to a point where I would start my swing, stop and have to start it again. Those precious milliseconds are huge. I was late a lot. A lot. The room for error that I had was slim to none.”

When Jordan and Tracy first proposed the leg kick, they asked Hoskins to exaggerate it.

“The first thing Joe said was, ‘Try to hit your chin with your left knee,’” Hoskins recalled.

Hoskins experimented with the size of the kick for a couple of weeks in batting practice and in games. Then one day he hit a home run in a game against the Yankees’ instructional league team.

“The pitcher was throwing pretty hard and I was able to get to a ball that was in and I hit it for a home run,” Hoskins said. “I said to myself, ‘Hmmm, this is probably something to stick with.’”

Jordan and Tracy encouraged Hoskins to use the leg kick during his wintertime workouts after the 2014 season. He did. He made it part of him and his bat carried him on a quick trip through the Phillies’ minor-league system and into the middle of the big club’s batting order.

Amazing what one little bit of coaching can do when it finds a talented and willing student.

“Our entire staff watched Rhys that first summer and came up with a great plan for him,” Jordan said. “Those guys did it and Rhys nailed it. He took it home that winter, worked at it and it’s become his normal ever since.”