Phillies

Kapler wants Phillies to be bold — like the Super Bowl champs

Kapler wants Phillies to be bold — like the Super Bowl champs

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The manager’s opening speech is one of the grand traditions of spring training. Rules are covered (work hard, be on time, usually covers it), goals are established (Hey, everyone is tied for first place, to hell with the skeptics, let’s go out and win the World Series!) and an overall tone is set for camp and beyond.

Giving that speech for the first time is exciting and even a little nerve-racking. Gabe Kapler began thinking about what he would say to his team months ago. And now, with Phillies pitchers and catchers opening camp on Wednesday and the full squad set to report over the weekend and hit the fields on Monday, Kapler’s time to address the entire group for the first time is almost here.

“I know what that message is with a tremendous amount of clarity,” the new skipper, looking tan, muscular and ready to kick some ass, said Tuesday. “It’s critically important. It’s everything.”

Kapler was asked for a taste of what he will tell his troops.

“I can give you a little bit,” he said. “One of the questions I’ve been asking a lot of our players is what does it mean to play boldly? What does it mean to deliver a pitch boldly? What does it mean to take a swing in the batter’s box boldly? What does it mean to communicate boldly?”

Kapler went on to talk about conviction, courage and fearlessness, attributes he wants to see in his club. He wants to build an environment where there is no fear so his players can be comfortable and bold.

And if they are bold, they can shock some people.

Just like another team in town did recently.

“We would be foolish to not take cues from what the Eagles accomplished,” Kapler said of the Super Bowl champs. “Not just over the last couple weeks, but over the summer when coach (Doug) Pederson addressed his team and said, ‘This is what the world thinks and this is what we think you are. We get some development from our young quarterback, and we get some development on defense, we’re going to be much better than people think.’ 

"I think if everybody on our roster takes a small step forward, we have an opportunity to shock people. That’s the message we’re going to convey in camp. Ultimately, the message is we can win. It’s not like a delusional statement. It’s more like we all take that small step forward, we all get a little bit better, we all develop just enough where we surprise people.

“I think it means being very competitive when September rolls around. So being in the mix, being in the hunt, fighting for the National League East. I don’t think there has to be any major declaration made here. We’re fighting for the National League East in September.”

On paper, the Phillies don’t have the starting pitching to dethrone the Washington Nationals.

But Kapler is nothing if not positive. He runs on positive, can-do energy the way some people run on Wawa coffee.

“Yes,” he said when asked if the Phillies have the personnel to win.

He raved about what he has seen in early workouts from pitchers Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, two big arms who know how to show it off in the bullpen.

Of course, the Phillies are still looking for more starting pitchers and may end up bringing in an arm in the coming days or weeks (see story).

Kapler has been in Clearwater bonding with early-arriving players, stressing boldness, for two weeks. He watched the Super Bowl at “a tiny wine bar in Tampa.” The fitness buff did not drink, but he had two bacon burgers, and you can bet he passed on the bun.

“It was one of my favorite three-hour stretches that I can remember in a really long time,” Kapler said. “It was quiet. I just locked into the game. It was really remarkable. And, obviously, we talked about the cues that we can take from the Eagles. We talked in this conversation about being bold. Well, those guys were nothing if not bold. The play-calling. The relentlessness on the field. Across the board, they played with boldness. So that was an inspiring day.”

Now, the ball has been handed off to the Phillies.

And Gabe Kapler has a message for the lads:

Be bold.

Energy, new look have Herrera 'presenting beautifully' to Kapler

Energy, new look have Herrera 'presenting beautifully' to Kapler

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Odubel Herrera showed up to Phillies camp with a new look Sunday. 
 
Bronze-tipped dreadlocks. A bronze goatee.
 
Manager Gabe Kapler, who encourages players to present themselves in a way that makes them feel confident, was impressed with his centerfielder’s style – and more.
 
“He looks amazing,” Kapler gushed. “He looks incredible. I think he is just physically presenting beautifully right now. He has a lot of energy. Obviously his smile is big and bold. He looks kind of cool. The hair is kind of cool and the beard, but more importantly he is in incredible athletic condition. You can tell he has put a lot of work in and we’re excited about what’s to come for Odubel.”
 
Herrera, 26, is entering his fourth season in the majors, all with the Phillies. He has been the team’s best player the last three seasons, leading the club in runs (218), hits (462), batting average (.288), doubles (93), extra-base hits (142), times on base (690), OPS (.774) and total bases (690) over that span.
 
Herrera sputtered at times in the first half of last season, but was outstanding, posting a .887 OPS over his final 88 games in 2017. 
 
When Herrera is motivated and focused, he is an electric player. But it’s no secret that he can occasionally be undisciplined, making baserunning blunders, forgetting how many outs there are and not running out balls.
 
So it was kind of interesting to hear Kapler say he planned on using Herrera as an example during Sunday night’s team welcome gathering at a Clearwater restaurant. Kapler encouraged players to dress in whatever attire that made them feel “confident.” He planned to address the group and trumpet his season theme of being “bold.” A video presentation was planned.
 
“We’re going to show some video tonight of Odubel on the bases and his ability to really change a play with his athleticism and a good turn around second base,” Kapler said.
 
Clearly, the skipper is taking a positive tack with Herrera, as he has done with every other player. Kapler met with Herrera over the winter in Miami and his message was all about looking forward and being positive.
 
“Not only is there a clean slate, but the meeting in Miami was much more about supporting,” Kapler said. “Before we have an opportunity to really sharpen, we have to build trust, we have to demonstrate that we really care about somebody, we have to support. And then it’s a whole lot easier when the time comes – and it absolutely will come – for us to raise the bar for our players and to have those more difficult conversations. 
 
“So I didn’t go to Miami or meet with any of our players to say, ‘Here are some things we need you to do differently from last year.’ I just think that is not an effective human strategy. Rather, it was, ‘Let’s talk about who you can be. Let’s dream together. Let’s see this as the sky’s the limit, not just as a team, but as individuals. So what are your carrots? What do you want to go after and how can we help you in your pursuit of those goals.' ”
 
Herrera was asked about his goals.
 
“The only one I can share with you is I want to help the team win,” he said. “But I have some personal ones that I want to keep to myself.”
 
Kapler believes that Herrera, entering the second season of a five-year, $30.5 million deal, can have a huge year.
 
“I told him he is an elite level defender in center field, which is absolutely true and fairly easy to quantify,” Kapler said. “I told him with some small adjustments he could be one of the best all-around center fielders in baseball. We believe that strongly.
 
“I told him the sky’s the limit for him and I believe he thinks that about himself. There is no ceiling. He wants to be an All-Star, he wants to be a Gold Glove defender and he’s not that far off from doing both of those things in the same season. There is no limitation for him, right. The ceiling is not low for Odubel Herrera. It’s incredibly high if there is one at all.”
 
Focus and the occasional lapse in hustle have been flaws in Herrera’s game. What happens if he slips up in 2018? Kapler suggested that Philadelphia’s discerning fans could play a part in keeping Herrera in line.
 
“The fans in Philadelphia expect us to give everything we have every night and they expect us to do it all over again the next day,” Kapler said. “Those are high expectations. Our players are going to have the foundation and the tools to meet those expectations.”

Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/AP Images

Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The numbering is a little off in the Phillies’ spring training clubhouse. Usually lockers are assigned in numerical sequence, clockwise around the room. But this spring, No. 41 comes immediately after No. 7.

Why?

Because that’s the way Carlos Santana wanted it.

“I told the team that I wanted Maikel Franco right next to me,” the new first baseman said after his first workout with the club Saturday. “That's something that I wanted. I really like him. He's a special kid. I appreciate him a lot. And, not only him, the whole group is nice. But I really want to work with him and help him out.”

Santana, 31, and Franco, 25, are both natives of the Dominican Republic. They bonded this winter. After Santana signed with the Phillies in December, he worked out at the Phillies' academy in the DR with Franco.

It’s no secret this is a big year for Franco (see story). He needs to finally put together his potential or the team may look elsewhere – hello, Manny Machado – for its next third baseman.

Franco’s big area of need is Santana’s area of strength: Plate discipline. Santana walks almost as much as he strikes out. He has registered a career on-base percentage of .365 while averaging 24 homers over the last seven seasons. Franco has pop – he has hit 25 and 24 homers, respectively, the last two seasons – but his career on-base percentage is just .300 after a dip to .281 last season.

Santana has reached at least 100 walks twice in his career and at least 91 four other times. Franco had a career-best 41 walks last season.

Santana praised Victor Martinez for being a mentor to him early in his career. “That’s why I wear No. 41,” he said. Santana wants to be Franco’s Victor Martinez.

“We’re going to work together every single day,” Santana said. “We’re going to make sure he executes the plan he wants to follow. I know he’s a guy that’s very talented and he’s capable of a lot. So I’m going to be there. I’m committed to helping him. I’m going to be in the cage, hitting as many balls as possible. He already told me today that he wants to follow me everywhere he goes. If I have to go to the cage he’s going to go with me to hit some balls. He’s committed and I’m committed, too.”

The Phillies have baseball’s second-worst on-base percentage (.307, San Diego is .303) the last six seasons. The additions of Santana and J.P. Crawford to the lineup – and a full season of Rhys Hoskins, another selective hitter – should help the offense.

“When you have a guy (like Santana) in the middle of the lineup, grinding down the opposing pitcher – just imagine, you’re a pitcher on the other side and you’re delivering pitch after pitch that’s getting fouled off or a ball that is just off the corner and being taken, you get exhausted,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Guess who benefits from that? The next man up and the next man up and there’s this ripple effect. An exhausted starting pitcher or even an exhausted reliever is a really good thing for the Philadelphia Phillies.”

Santana signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Phillies in December. He said the Phillies’ young core reminds him of the group of youngsters that his former team, the Cleveland Indians, brought to the majors in recent seasons.

Unlike a number of other free agents who are still jobless in this unusual year for free agents, Santana jumped relatively early at the Phillies’ offer. He said it was “shocking” that so many free agents remain unsigned.

“I know baseball is going through a difficult time right now, with all of the free agents,” Santana said. “But it worked out for me. I am happy. I can only speak for myself, and I am happy I did it the way I did it. It's very surprising because there are a lot of talented free agents out there. I thought it would be very different from what it's been.”

To prepare for the new season and the new team, Santana worked with a personal trainer in the Dominican Republic. In one of the drills, he was forced to push a car.

“It was a complete workout,” he said. “It wasn't only to get ready for preseason, it was also to get ready for the season and be successful during the season.

“It's a positive atmosphere here. I see a lot of young guys, very hungry and very eager to win. You can tell everyone is ready to go here.”