Phillies

Sources: Phillies down to 2 finalists for manager

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Sources: Phillies down to 2 finalists for manager

The Phillies' manager search is rounding the homestretch and a new skipper could be named as soon as early next week, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
 
Team officials began the final round of interviews on Thursday. In-house candidate Dusty Wathan and outsider Gabe Kapler have emerged as finalists while former Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell is getting a late look, according to sources.
 
Major League Baseball frowns on clubs making significant announcements during the World Series, but there is a scheduled off-day in the event on Monday so an announcement could come on that day if club officials wrap up their search. Otherwise, an announcement would have to wait until later in the week.
 
The finalists all have differing resumes. A source confirmed an MLB.com report that Farrell had entered the mix and was slated to speak with club officials. Farrell appeared to be a bit of a long shot, but the 55-year-old New Jersey native and former major-league pitcher and pitching coach has something the rest of the field does not have: He has managed in the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Red Sox. He spent the last five seasons managing in Boston, where his teams won three American League East titles and a World Series in 2013.
 
Kapler, 42, played 12 seasons in the majors and managed in Boston's minor-league system before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers' front office in 2014. He has served as that club's director of player development and has a commitment to analytics and nutrition, two areas of importance to a Phillies front office trying to build behind-the-scenes competitive advantages. Kapler was considered for the Dodgers' manager job two years ago. The position went to Dave Roberts, who now has that team in the World Series.
 
Over the last couple of years, the Phillies organization, from ownership on down, has shown a desire to bring in outside perspectives. That could work in Kapler's favor. But if the team can get past that, Wathan could be the man. He has tremendous credentials as a manager in the Phillies' minor-league system and already has the trust of a number of key players who are projected to be part of the team's core in 2018. On the final weekend of the 2017 season, after Pete Mackanin had been reassigned to a front-office position, several players, including projected stalwarts Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford, enthusiastically endorsed Wathan for the post.
 
Wathan, 44, is the son of John Wathan, a former major-league catcher and manager of the Kansas City Royals. The younger Wathan, also a catcher, spent the bulk of his playing career in the minors and appeared briefly in the majors with the Royals in 2002. He finished his playing career with the Phillies' Triple A club and has managed in the system for the past 10 seasons. Wathan was the Eastern League's manager of the year at Double A Reading in 2015 and 2016. He moved to Triple A Lehigh Valley in 2017 and helped send a host of players to the majors during the season, including Hoskins, Crawford and Nick Williams.
 
Williams, an outfielder, hit .288 with 12 homers and 55 RBIs in 83 games with the big club in 2017. He had struggled at Triple A during the second half of 2016 and was benched a couple of times for lack of hustle. Getting the enigmatic Williams on track was an organizational goal in 2017 and Wathan played a huge role in doing that as the two built a connection early in the season.
 
Wathan's knowledge of the Phillies' young players goes beyond Hoskins, Crawford and Williams. He talked extensively about players in the system and his personal managerial style in this March interview. Wathan also talked about watching his dad's Royals lose to the Phillies in the 1980 World Series. The Royals, as Wathan explained, rebounded and beat the Phillies on Family Feud later that offseason. The evidence can be seen on YouTube.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

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Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

For a couple of weeks in August, Rhys Hoskins might have been Philadelphia's most popular athlete. Fans marveled at the nightly power display that the young slugger put on in the middle of the Phillies' batting order. Carson Wentz and the Eagles had not yet begun their magnificent season. Hoskins was the man in town.

It hit him one night after a game. He stopped in Center City for some late-night eats. A man and his young son approached. They offered their congratulations and asked for an autograph.

"That's when I was like, 'OK, this might be something that's about to be part of my life,' " Hoskins said. "But it was cool because I used to be that kid."

Hoskins was back in the area Monday night for the 114th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. He was honored with a special achievement award for a torrid major league debut in which he clubbed 18 homers and drove in 48 runs in just 50 games last season.

Hoskins was raised in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego this offseason. His 18 homers in 2017 were the most ever hit by a player who did not make his season debut until after Aug. 1. Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers after returning from the Korean War in 1953, was the previous record holder.

Williams was a San Diego native.

"Surreal," Hoskins said of that 50-game stretch last season and the buzz that has followed him into the offseason. "Indescribable."

He is now a recognizable face, a signature talent, in a sports-crazy town.

And he's ready for it.

"Enjoy it," he said. "Take it by storm and enjoy it. It's supposed to be fun and that's probably the best approach to take. I think my thought is what happened may never happen again. Tomorrow something might happen. Tomorrow I might never be able to step on a baseball field again. So I think you have to take it by storm and enjoy it.

"If you had asked me a year ago if I would be walking down the streets of Philadelphia and would people recognize me I'd probably laugh at you. But that’s where we are now.

"It's just a testament to how passionate the people of Philadelphia are and how much they love their sports."

Hoskins will report to Clearwater for spring training at the end of this month. He wants to get a head start so he can ramp up his workouts in left field. A first baseman by trade, he began playing the position occasionally last season. He will move there full-time in 2018 as newly signed Carlos Santana takes over at first base.

Hoskins got a 30-game taste of left field last year. He is OK with the move.

"Having Carlos is exciting for the city and exciting for the team," Hoskins said. "We add a guy who has proven himself in this league for five or six years at a very high level so to kind of insert that into the lineup and into the clubhouse, especially with such a young team — I think we're going to feel that exponentially throughout the year.

"Left field is a challenge. It's a challenge that I'm definitely excited about. I started to feel more comfortable out there toward the end of the year.

"I think I can be just fine out there. I'm not necessarily going to be a Gold Glover. I just don’t have the speed that some guys out there do, especially in today's game. But I think I'll be just fine and contribute to the team defensively as much as I can and make the plays that I'm supposed to."

Hoskins will turn 25 on March 17. He projects to bat cleanup in new manager Gabe Kapler's lineup.

"He's energized, intense and thorough," Hoskins said of the new skipper. "He can captivate a room. I'm curious to see how that dynamic works in the clubhouse. I think he's going to be a pretty exciting guy to work with."