The search is over.
Roughly a month after announcing that Pete Mackanin would be reassigned to the front office, the Philadelphia Phillies have determined his successor. According to a report by Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Phillies settled on Los Angeles Dodgers director of player development Gabe Kapler over the weekend and will announce the decision officially in the coming days, likely when the World Series is over.
Kapler was chosen over two other finalists: Dusty Wathan, manager of the team’s Triple-A affiliate at Lehigh Valley, and former Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell. He will be the first manager hired that has had no prior connection to the team since Terry Francona in 1996. He’ll also be the team’s youngest manager since Francona took over.
The Phils have dropped the beginnings of an intriguing core into place in the past year. The decision to move on from Mackanin—who was in place mostly to bring youngsters like Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, and Nick Williams along from the minors—most likely has its genesis in the desire to bring that core to the next level.
So what do we know about the Phillies’ new manager? Here are five facts about Gabe Kapler.
1 Playing career
Kapler spent 12 years as a major league outfielder from 1998 to 2010. He spent two extended periods of time out of the majors in that span, once for an unsuccessful half-season jaunt to Japan to play for the Yomiuri Giants and once for a short-lived one-year retirement.
Kapler rose from a 57th-round draft pick in 1995 to become the top prospect in the Tigers’ system by the time he made his MLB debut in 1998. He hit 18 home runs in his official rookie season in 1999, including 10 in his first 67 games, at that point the fastest a Tigers rookie had ever reached double digits. His performance was good enough to make him a centerpiece of the trade in the winter of 1999 that sent Juan Gonzalez from the Texas Rangers to Detroit.
He spent two-and-a-half seasons in Texas before being traded to the Colorado Rockies and was traded to the Boston Red Sox in June of 2003. Kapler was also on the field when Boston won its first World Series in 86 years the following year.
Throughout most of the rest of his career, he played as a fourth outfielder but remained in high esteem as a valuable piece to any team.
“He’s as good a backup outfielder as there is in baseball,” Ryan Braun told MLB.com in 2008 when Kapler was playing with the Brewers. “He could be a starter on most teams.”
2 Managerial experience
Kapler’s current position is in the Dodgers’ front office, but he has one year of managerial experience. That came in 2007 during his abortive retirement when the Red Sox named him manager of their full-season Single-A team, the Greenville Drive. The team had a rough year, going 58-81 and finishing seventh in their division in the South Atlantic League.
Kapler also had dugout experience after his second retirement as a member of the coaching staff of team Israel in qualifying for the 2013 World Baseball Classic—an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful.
He was essentially the runner-up for the Dodgers’ job two winters ago that ultimately went to Dave Roberts.
3 Analytic mind
Kapler is known for being deeply interested in analytics. This was likely a decisive element in the team’s decision to hire him, as general manager Matt Klentak has a keen interest in sabermetrics as well. When Kapler was an analyst for Fox Sports 1, he often hosted his own segment on the network’s MLB Whiparound show explaining advanced statistics.
The Phillies have lagged behind the rest of the league in incorporating analytics into the team identity, but changing that has been one of Klentak’s major projects since taking over the front office. Having worked for the last three years in the analytics-forward front office of the Dodgers, Kapler brings the young, forward-thinking mind the Phillies and Klentak are looking for.
4 Player development
The Phillies will be a young team next year. One of the most important things Dusty Wathan, one of Kapler’s competitors, brought to the table was his familiarity with the Phillies’ young core. Wathan managed most of the team’s big prospects both at Lehigh Valley and Double-A Reading, where he managed for four years. Guys like Hoskins, Williams, and J.P. Crawford have all learned at his knee.
Kapler may not have direct familiarity with his new players, but he spent the last three years in LA as director of player development and thus has experience handling young players, if indirectly. He’s been the director of the farm system that produced the likes of Rookie of the Year favorite Cody Bellinger and star shortstop Corey Seager.
If Kapler applies what he learned when handling the Dodgers’ farm system on a micro-level with the young players on the Phillies’ roster—and to talented players still in the pipeline like Scott Kingery, Sixto Sanchez, Mickey Moniak, and Dylan Cozens—then there should be little issue connecting to the young Phils.
5 Sports science
One of the few positive things remaining from the reign of the Chip Kelly era across the parking lot at Lincoln Financial Field was Kelly’s proclivity to sports science. The only vestige of Kelly that remained when he was fired in 2015 was his sports science department.
Along with analytics, Kapler has a deep interest in sports science and nutrition. He reportedly removed all junk food from the clubhouses of Dodgers’ minor league affiliates when he was hired and switched them to serving entirely organic food.
That interest extends to fitness and sports psychology, both areas the Phillies have invested resources in recently. Sports psychology, in particular, could be something that could straighten out players like Maikel Franco, who has been pressing at the plate for much of the last two seasons. If he can implement these elements into the team as well as Kelly did for the Eagles, he could truly transform an organization that has too often been backward when it comes to more advanced ways of thinking.
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