Phillies

Report: Phillies 'zeroing in' on Dusty Wathan as manager

Report: Phillies 'zeroing in' on Dusty Wathan as manager

The Phillies are "zeroing in" on Triple A manager Dusty Wathan to fill their vacancy, according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY.

Wathan has been believed to be a strong candidate for the Phils' managerial opening. He managed pretty much all of the Phillies' young players at Double A and Triple A, which is notable because this team is built around the likes of Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and several other young pieces Wathan managed on their way to the bigs.

"He's the best manager I've ever had in pro ball," Crawford said before the Phillies' final series of the 2017 season. "He's a players' manager. He loves to win just as much as we do."

Wathan was the manager of the year at Double A Reading in 2015, where he eventually became the winningest manager in team history. 

He took over as manager at Triple A this past season with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and guided them to an 80-62 record before joining the Phillies' staff in the big leagues in September.

"You hear a lot of guys say that this guy's a players' manager. Well, Dusty is that guy to a tee," Hoskins said in early October. "I feel comfortable going to him with baseball stuff and non-baseball stuff.

"He's managed a lot of us so he knows how we react in certain situations and we know how he is, so it adds to the comfort level."

Wathan, 44, played three games in the majors for the Royals in 2002. He had a long minor-league career, playing 1,019 games over 14 seasons, mostly as a catcher.

"He played what, 14-15 years in baseball?" Hoskins said. "So he gets what we go through as players and I think it adds to his style of managing."

Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

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USA Today Images

Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A week into camp, Nick Williams looks primed to build on last year’s impressive rookie season.

Williams has been launching balls in batting practice and manager Gabe Kapler loves it — even it means he’ll be charged for a little damage to his rental car.

On Tuesday, Williams clubbed a ball far over the fence at Mike Schmidt Field. It landed on the roof of Kapler’s rented Ford Explorer, leaving a dent that would hold a couple of servings of creamed spinach.

“I would trade a Nick Williams home run for a dent in a rental car any day of the week,” Kapler said Tuesday.

“I’m glad he said that,” Williams said Wednesday morning, “because it felt kind of good to hit it.”

Later on Wednesday, Williams put on another power display at Schmidt Field. It was so impressive that Cesar Hernandez considered leaving the field, grabbing his keys and moving his car.

“I just missed Cesar’s car,” Williams said with a laugh.

Kapler was again impressed with Williams’ round of BP.

“Today we had a nice little breeze coming in from right field,” Kapler said. “The breeze did not stop Nick Williams from destroying the baseball and almost hitting my car for a second day straight.

“If he is destroying cars and it happens to be mine, no problem.”

Kapler has no intention of parking elsewhere in coming days. In fact, he likes the idea of Williams using his car for target practice.

“We’re going to make it a bull’s-eye for him,” Kapler said. “That’ll be a running joke. It’s a great way to build relationships. It’s part of the whole scientific plan to make this work.”

Williams, 24, arrived in the majors in June of last season. He played in 83 games and hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS. Like a number of players on the roster, he would benefit from fewer strikeouts and more walks (97/20 in 343 plate appearances last season), but a week into camp, Kapler likes the hitting potential he sees in the young outfielder.

“He’s really shining,” Kapler said. “He really is. He walks around with a perpetual smile on his face.

“Our hitting coaches are enthused about the bat path. The way he sort of lofts the ball to the middle of the field. Some hitters, when they strike their best ball, it’s on the ground. But Nick, when he makes his most solid contract, it has a nice loft to his swing. And in the middle of the field, there aren’t many guys who can drive the ball like he can.”

The Phillies have four outfielders worthy of regular playing time. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera line up to play left field and center field, respectively. Williams will get time in right. Aaron Altherr can play any outfield position.

Kapler is reluctant to assign roles at this point in camp. But he is confident he can find all four playing time.

“I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “Between pinch-hitting, interleague, someone getting a tweak and missing a week, the occasional rep at first base [for Hoskins], they’re all going to get a ton of reps. I envision plenty of at-bats to keep everybody satisfied, healthy and performing well.”

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Larry Bowa is still here, hitting ground balls, working with the infielders, pitching batting practice and offering opinions.

"This team should play .500," he said walking off the field after a workout this week. 

"At least .500."

Bowa might be 72, but his energy level is that of a man 50 years younger. Really. This is his 53rd year in pro ball and his 34th in a Phillies uniform. He was a Gold Glove shortstop and a World Series winner in his playing days, he helped win a National League pennant as third base coach in 1993. He managed the club for four years and spent the last four seasons as bench coach.

The front office made sweeping changes after last season. Pete Mackanin was let go as manager — he remains with the club as an adviser and will scout spring training in Arizona — and Bowa relinquished his bench coaching duties. But Bowa's affiliation with the Phillies, which began in 1966, continues. He is now a senior adviser to general manager Matt Klentak. He will spend the season watching all of the Phillies' clubs from top to bottom. He will work with minor-league infielders. So there will be plenty to keep him busy.

Though the Phillies' win total slipped by five, from 71 to 66, last season, strides were made in the rebuild. The team played .500 ball over the final 76 games and a number of young players, some who could be difference-makers for a long time, arrived in the majors.

That's one of the reasons Bowa thinks this Phillies team can surprise people.

"The experience they gained last year, the way they played the second half, the way they played in the division, they played Washington tough," Bowa said. "Our division is not what you'd call super strong, and you're playing all those teams 18 times.

"I think our lineup is going to score runs. They're going to catch the ball. We caught the ball in the infield last year. And I think they're going to catch it in the outfield.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to have more pitching depth, but you know what? There aren't many perfect teams. They should play .500. The bullpen is strong. You hear they might go with eight relievers. Mix and match."

In his heart, Bowa was sad to see shortstop Freddy Galvis go. The two were close after working together for years. But Bowa thinks rookie J.P. Crawford is going to be just fine.

"I think Crawford is a very good shortstop, I really do," Bowa said. "With Freddy, you're talking about a guy who in my opinion should have won two Gold Gloves. Not one. Two. He should have won the last two years, but he didn't. The thing that J.P. brings is, even when he didn't hit good the last month last season, he gets on base. That's big."

Bowa loved what he saw of Aaron Nola last season and believes Jerad Eickhoff will bounce back big.

"He cemented himself with the way he pitched," Bowa said of Nola, who ranked 20th among big-league starters with a 3.54 ERA last season. "And you didn't even see the real Eickhoff. I think there was something bothering him and he tried to pitch through it. I don't think it was anything major. He's a bulldog, man. I'd fight for Eickhoff and Nola every day of the week. I like their demeanor, their attitude, their intensity."

Bowa didn't mince words when talking about third baseman Maikel Franco and starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, two big talents that need to do more.

"It's time," Bowa said, plainly. "It's just time. These are two guys that mean a lot to this team. Stuff-wise, Vinny should pitch good this year."

Bowa loves the addition of first baseman Carlos Santana, a selective hitter who produces runs. He was impressed with the late-season work of relievers Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia and thinks the confidence they gained will fuel strong seasons. He believes the team will respond well to new manager Gabe Kapler's energy.

"If you play .500 baseball going into the middle of August," Bowa said. "There's so much parity in baseball, you catch lightning in a bottom, watch out."

Bowa is happy to still be around the game and the Phillies. The change in role agrees with him.

"I've had a charmed life," he said. "And to be honest, I wasn't in love with the travel anymore."

He remains proud of the Phillies' second half last year. The team went 38-38 in its final 76 games.

"People sort of dismiss that," Bowa said. "But the fact is, it's very easy to fold up shop when you're buried at the All-Star break. It's a credit to Pete and the guys that played, they never quit. They played hard.

"I think this organization, if you look at the second half when Pete left, it's a lot better than when he took over.

"The stars are aligning. Things are really looking up."