CLEARWATER, Fla. — Scott Kingery opened the door to the conference room adjacent to Gabe Kapler’s office Monday and was quickly greeted by the Phillies manager.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about you lately,” said Kapler, surrounded by members of the Phillies brain trust.
Kingery, one of the team’s top prospects, had received a text the night before from Kapler to set up a meeting. He guessed Kapler might be joined by maybe two others. Instead, there sat general manager Matt Klentak and his assistant, Ned Rice. First base coach Jose Flores and minor-league infield coordinator Chris Truby also were there, as were special assistant to the general manager Jorge Velandia and player-information coordinators Sam Fuld and Ben Werthan.
“I was caught off guard by how many guys were in there,” Kingery said. “I walked in and was like ‘whoa.’ ”
Kapler’s camp has been open for just three weeks. But it is already obvious that it is far different from any other in team history. The manager has strived to build communication with players. He spoke Friday about having empathy, perhaps the first Phillies manager to say that. And his “player-plan” meetings are a thread of that. Kapler has scheduled one with each member of the roster to detail the “things you kick ass at” as camp begins. Monday was Kingery’s day. And a lot of people are thinking lately about Kingery.
The group watched a slide show presentation detailing Kingery’s performance last season and comparing him with other players. Everyone in the room was encouraged to offer opinions as the slides progressed. They showed him emerging last year as a key piece of the Phillies’ future after he hit 26 homers and registered an .889 OPS between double A and triple A. Kingery learned he was one of just two players in affiliated baseball to hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases. Pretty cool, he thought.
“We’ll show them a little context and where they stand to the rest of the league. ‘Did you know that this was one of your strengths?’ A lot of them, surprisingly, say no,” Kapler said.
They introduced advanced stats, using terms Kingery knew little about. This was the new Phillies. The group talked to him about his baserunning and encouraged him to steal more bases. Kingery thought he has been a bit tentative and was told to take chances this spring and be aggressive. Kingery left the meeting feeling as if he could steal 45 bases this season.
“I don’t know really anything about analytics. I know the basics. Average, OBP, OPS, that kind of stuff,” Kingery said. “We talked about like a weighted on-base average and optimal launch angle and stuff like that that I really hadn’t seen anything about and kind of confuses me if I see it on a piece of paper. So I got to learn a little bit about that. There were good vibes and just to see what we could do to increase your strengths.”
The meetings stemmed from collaboration, Kapler said. The manager has often deflected credit this spring for any of the new initiatives. Everyone works as a team, Kapler said. And perhaps he is being honest. Maybe the meetings are not his idea. But there is no denying that this is different. Kingery’s only meeting last spring with the staff came when he was sent down to minor-league camp. Great camp and have a nice season, Kingery was told before he packed his belongings and left the clubhouse.
“This was definitely new,” Kingery said.
Each meeting ends with the player having a chance to say what’s on his mind. Kingery read recently that Kapler said the team wanted to play him at different positions this spring and maybe even give him a look in center field. It was good, Kingery said, that the team was thinking of a way to get him to the major leagues.
He was all in, he told the group. Kingery’s attitude, Kapler said, was “off the charts.”
“He left the room and we all looked at each other and said, ‘That’s the model of teammate behavior. That’s the model of looking at value at the margins.’ Because he does. He’s dug into the numbers and where he can improve,” Kapler said. “Looking to get better all the time, taking care of his teammates, looking out for his club, thinking highly of himself but in a bit of a humble way.”
Kingery will reach the majors sometime this season, perhaps as early as April or May. But he might not arrive as a second baseman. That is fine, he said. He left that meeting and boarded a bus to Tampa for a night game against the Yankees. Kingery went to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and fell behind with two strikes. He homered to tie the game. His manager – and the group that huddled in that conference room – had another reason to be impressed.