Phillies' Gabe Kapler brings a unique take to spring training

Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler takes unique methods to spring training
Gabe Kapler has never shied away from thinking outside the box, so it's not shocking the first few days of Phillies camp at the Carpenter Complex have included some surprises.

Perhaps the biggest came Friday with the arrival of umpires in camp to work bullpen sessions. The goal, according to Kapler, to create game-like conditions for the pitchers while helping catchers practice framing pitches.

It's something different, and Kapler is all about finding untapped value and any edge he can.

"Craig Driver, in our catching department, was instrumental in suggesting how powerful that would be, to give feedback to the catchers on their ability to keep balls in the zone, to create more game-like conditions for the pitchers," Kapler said following Friday's workout at Carpenter Complex. "It's not the meat and the potatoes. Having umpires out there is not the most important thing. It's just, 'How can we find the last little detail that gets us a tiny bit better and gives us one step forward?' Look, we're trying to win 90-plus games. It's not going to be easy. It's going to take all of us coming together and thinking about how we can extract that last bit of value."

Kapler said he gave pitchers the option to pitch with an umpire behind the plate. Nobody said no.

"We've gotten universally positive feedback on it," Kapler said. "That's not to say we'll always get the perfect feedback. That's not the most important thing. The most important thing is we share up front that we try new things and we iterate. We ask, 'How can we make this better?'

Along with umpires, Kapler also had cameras and tracking devices installed around the Carpenter Complex. The goal? Tracking and logging of reps.

“I can tell you I’d like a major focus to be on tracking and logging reps,” Kapler said. “A rep is a swing, a throw, it’s a squat, it’s a sprint, it’s a run down the line, it’s a home to third [run]. 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 not just in April and May, but through September and October as well. That is a major focus in camp and it’s a competitive advantage for us if we can do it effectively.”

All this to say, Kapler aims to cut down on team workouts and give individual players more say in how they prepare for the season.

“So, by way of example, if a player comes in and we know he has 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.”

Kapler is also using his analytical knowledge to alter how things happen in camp. For example, workouts begin at 11 a.m., an hour later than a year ago because he believes rested athletes perform better with more sleep.

“It’s really about communication and really more than anything else it’s about being sensible,” Kapler said.

Aside from umpires and later start times, Kapler has also been recording drills on his smartphone to share with players and staff and has had members of the front office intermixed with uniformed coaches leading drills.

Kapler has also given approval to the playing of music over the sound system on the fields occupied by the Phillies at the Carpenter Complex.

“Ultimately, when we’re surrounded by music, we feel good,” said Kapler, whose father is a music teacher and a classically trained pianist. “We smile more, we’re more relaxed at the plate. There’s science behind this. It’s been studied. Workplaces are happier and they are more inspired when music is playing.”

The playlist includes a little of everything, from Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd to Latin artists and hip-hop.

Tradition isn't out the window entirely, but there's a new-wave feel to camp for the Phillies.

“What we don't do is do it because it's the way it's always been done,” Kapler said. “We don't have a cookie-cutter approach.”
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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