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.
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.”