Rob Thomson

Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

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Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

CLEARWATER, Fla. – According to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, “the Phillies got one of the best,” when they hired Rob Thomson as bench coach.

“It was tough to see him leave,” Cashman said. “He is a great coach, an exceptional baseball man. His knowledge of the game is off the charts.

“Gabe Kapler has someone at his side that he can trust to have everything lined up properly all the time and that will free up Gabe Kapler to focus on whatever he wants to focus on at the given time. Rob Thomson will keep the rudder steady every step of the way."

Thomson, 54, spent 28 years in the Yankees organization, most recently as Joe Girardi’s bench coach. He was one of five people (along with Eric Wedge, Hensley Muelens and Carlos Beltran) to interview to become Girardi’s successor during the offseason (see story.) Aaron Boone got the job.

Timing worked in the Phillies’ favor in hiring Thomson. There was a lag between when Thomson found out he would not be the Yankees’ manager and Boone’s hiring. The Phillies offered him their bench coach job and he took it.

“He would have been a candidate to return here, without question,” Cashman said. “It would have been the final call of Aaron Boone, but I would have recommended him highly to Aaron Boone. I gave (Phillies GM) Matt Klentak the highest recommendation.”

Thomson described himself as a good self-evaluator. He’s not sure he’d be cut out to manage every team, but he believed he’d have been a good fit for the Yankees job. He knew that organization, its operation and its players well.

“I understand that it’s part of the business,” Thomson said. “Brian and his staff, who are very smart people, had a certain person in mind and it wasn’t me. So you have to move on and refocus.”

Kapler did extensive research on Thomson and said he often heard that Thomson was “the best in the business at planning and running a spring training camp.”

Cashman concurred.

“Gabe Kapler has as good a right-hand man as you can find,” he said.

One plugged-in baseball observer described Thomson as similar to the late John Vukovich – a loyal-to-his-manager baseball taskmaster – only with a little less volume in his voice.

“He’s tough,” Cashman said. “He will be brutally honest. He’ll say what a player needs to hear, not necessarily what a player wants to hear. And he’ll always relate well to players because he always has their best interest at heart.

“The Phillies got one of the best.”

New bench coach Rob Thomson is Yankees’ loss, Phillies' gain

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New bench coach Rob Thomson is Yankees’ loss, Phillies' gain

CLEARWATER, Fla. – It will probably hit Rob Thomson sometime on Sunday. That’s when the New York Yankees visit Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring-training home.

Thomson spent 28 seasons in the Yankees’ famous pinstripes, serving in player-development, front-office and coaching roles.

Most recently, he was the bench coach for former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Thomson was one of five people interviewed to replace Girardi after last season. Aaron Boone got the job, but Thomson wasn’t a free agent for long. The Phillies quickly scooped up the 54-year-old baseball lifer and installed him as new manager Gabe Kapler’s top lieutenant.

On Sunday, Thomson will look across the diamond and see his past.

But all he’s thinking about is the future.

“I feel like I’m part of the Phillies family already,” he said. “The people have been great. They’ve welcomed me right in.

“I’m here to support Gabe in any way I can. I’ve got his back all the time.”

Phillies management wanted a veteran coaching presence around the 42-year-old Kapler, whose only managing experience came a decade ago in the low minors. New pitching coach Rick Kranitz held that position with three other clubs over 10 seasons. New hitting coach John Mallee previously held that position with the Astros and Cubs.

Thomson worked on Joe Torre’s staff before working under Girardi. He lived through the Yankees’ growth as one of baseball’s analytic giants. He's just what the Phillies and Kapler were looking for.

“I ask everybody everything all the time,” Kapler said. “I contacted no fewer than 20 people about Rob and heard nothing even remotely negative. I weigh that more than a six-hour interview. You might nail the interview, but you can’t fake your career.”

Kapler’s most valuable appraisal came from Girardi, who said Thomson was an incredible teammate.

“In my opinion, that’s the best compliment anyone in baseball can give,” Kapler said.

Thomson is a former catcher. He played on the 1984 Canadian Olympic team and in the Tigers' farm system before joining the Yankees’ player development department.

While working on Torre’s staff, Thomson learned the value of trust.

“Joe Torre was really into relationships and gaining trust with a player and that taught me a lot,” Thomson said. “Before you can really help players, they have to be able to trust you.

“With Joe Girardi, he was a little more analytics-driven so that taught me a lot. We’d always looked at numbers but it taught me to really dive into some of the more critical numbers that are around today.

“In a lot of ways, Gabe reminds me of Joe (Girardi) because of his presence and openness to ideas. Those are great qualities for a leader to have.”

Thomson arrives at work pre-dawn in spring training to plan the day. He is known to arrive at noon for a regular season night game. With data study, scouting reports, video, one-on-one coaching and meetings, the preparation for a single game rivals what happens in the NFL – only it happens every day. When game time arrives, Thomson will be at Kapler’s side, making suggestions and offering ideas (see story). He said he takes nothing personal, so Kapler can wave him off any time.

“But I won’t," Kapler said with a laugh. “I need that.”

Massages in, alarm clocks out at Phillies camp

Massages in, alarm clocks out at Phillies camp

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Change has spread dramatically throughout the Phillies organization in recent years. The front office has turned over. There's been a shakeup on the scouting staff. Analytics went from being a non-thing to a really big thing.

And now Gabe Kapler, full of progressive, outside-the-box ideas, has arrived as manager.

With him comes more change.

Remember how Chase Utley and Roy Halladay used to famously duel to see who could arrive in the clubhouse earlier each day in spring training? And, by early, we’re talking pre-dawn, dew-on-the-grass, the owls-are-still-hootin’ early.

Well, under Kapler, showing up before sunrise will not earn a player a badge of honor, and it certainly won't earn him an Egg McMuffin. Oh, a player can still drag his bones out of the rack super early if that’s what makes him tick, what makes him be the best version of himself, as Kapler says. But rest and recovery and waking up naturally can be important too, says the first-year skipper.

So …

Workouts will begin a little later this spring. Figure on pitchers and catchers hitting the field at 11 a.m. Wednesday for their first workout. In previous years, the Phillies stretched about 9:30 a.m. and got into workouts at 10.

“It gives our guys a chance to rest a little bit longer,” Kapler said Tuesday. “We are going to focus on rest, recovery, our guys being the strongest versions of themselves.

“Spring training is pretty long. One of our themes is: how can we be healthy and strong when camp closes? We want to have quick, efficient practices that mimic game conditions so that they can get used to it and when we hit Atlanta (for the March 29 season opener) those guys are strong and not broken down.”

Kapler is also rather fanatical about nutrition.

The Phillies, however, may have beaten him to the punch on that one.

“We have — what came way before me — among the best strength and conditioning staffs in baseball, among the best medical staffs in baseball, a chef already in house who cooks exceptional food, nutritionally dense food,” he said. “This organization was in really good shape. I'm just lucky to be inserted into that and add a little spice.”

New bench coach Rob Thomson, formerly the Yankees’ bench coach, will oversee scheduling for camp. Players will still do extra, early work — small groups with specific instructors before the official workout — but even that will start a little later.

“Thoms will talk about how early work is just better a little bit later,” Kapler said. “Guys come in a little bit more refreshed, they're in a better mood, and the balls stay a little bit drier. So the drills are just a little bit more effective.”

Kapler will encourage players to monitor their own workloads in camp then communicate about those workloads with coaches and the athletic training staff.

“A major focus will be on tracking and logging reps,” he said. “A rep is a swing, it’s a throw, it’s a squat, it’s a sprint, it’s a run down the line, it’s a home to third. Everything should be considered a rep and they should all be tracked and logged and factored in, so that we can keep guys healthy and strong and recovered through not just April and May, but through September and October, as well.

“If we can communicate to make sure that we all have that information, we might be able to back people off, whereas before we just sort of powered through because we didn’t know what was happening on other areas of the field. This is for the players. We want the information because it is our responsibility to put them in the best position to succeed.

“So, by way of example, if a player comes in and we know he had some extra activity the day before, maybe we don’t have anything specific planned for him the following day, then don’t come to the ballpark today. Stay home. Recover. Get a massage. Relax. Sleep. And then come back the next day and we’ll pick things back up.”

The Phillies aren’t the only team to stress recovery, not the only team to push back the start time of the workday.

“I don't think we're setting any precedent here," Kapler said. "There's other clubs who start practice a little bit later. The Rays have done that. The Yankees have done that.

"For me, personally, I love it. Guys are going to get to sleep a little bit longer. We're going to stress to them that doesn't mean they change anything the night before. Go ahead and do exactly what your routine is. Rather than having an alarm clock wake you up in the morning, get up when you get up. Come to the ballpark when it's time to work.

"I don't think there's any value in getting to the ballpark when it's dark, just to get to the ballpark when it's dark. Although, we have a lot of guys who that is their best method of being great. We're not going to strip that out of them either. All of our players are individuals and will be treated as such. Not everybody is the same. And we don't want to make everybody the same. We’re going to stress being great your way.”