As rumored swirled as to who may be the next Phillies’ manager, the name Dusty Wathan circulated quite a bit. That’s who I believed would be the choice to headman the Phillies into 2018. But the writing may have been on the wall in opposition of Wathan when it was announced that Matt Stairs was departing the organization and taking the hitting coach position with the San Diego Padres. It appeared that Wathan was set to at least consider Stairs to remain in that role with the Phillies. When Stairs left for a more certain job, it became clear that the Phillies may be going outside of the organization to get their next manager. That’s exactly what they did in hiring Gabe Kapler as the next skipper.
But who is Gabe Kapler?
Kapler was drafted in the 57th round of the 1995 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers out of Moorpark Colleg by way of Cal State Fullerton, the collegiate baseball titan (no pun intended). He was the 1487th overall pick that year. He began his professional career with the Short Season A Jamestown Jammers where he hit .288, finishing the season tied for second in doubles and extra base hits.
The then-20-year-old was promoted to Single A Fayettville to begin the 1996 season. He spent the entire year there, playing in 138 games. He hit an even .300 and led the South Atlantic League in hits, doubles, extra base hits and total bases. He hit 26 homeruns and drove in 99 runs as well. He was named a South Atlantic All Star that season.
Another year, and another promotion for Kapler, as he began the 1997 season with the Advanced A Lakeland Flying Tigers out of the Florida State League. He continued his offensive outpour as a 21-year-old, hitting .295 in 137 games. Kapler drove in 87 runs while hitting 19 homeruns for the Flying Tigers. He also struckout just 58 times in over 580 at bats in 1997, continuing his low strikeout rate he began in the minors two years prior. Kapler led the league in doubles for the third straight season in a third different league. He also led the league in total bases, and finished tied for first in extra base hits. He was named an All Star for each of the split seasons in the Florida State League.
In 1998, Kapler once again received a promotion, and this time, he would be elevated to Double A, where he’d spend his 22nd year on Earth with the Jacksonville Suns. In 139 games with the Suns, Kapler hit .322 with 28 homeruns and 146 RBI’s on his way to winning the Southern League MVP award. He led the league in almost every statistical category, including hits, runs, RBI’s, extra base hits and total bases. He also broke the Southern League record for most doubles in a single season with 47. For the third year in a row, Kapler was named a minor league All Star. He was also named the minor league player of the year, making his way to the top of the Tigers’ minor league boards as the number one team prospect.
The following season, Kapler would begin the year in AAA Toledo with the Mud Hens. That stint wouldn’t last long however, as after just 14 games, a .315 batting average and 14 RBI’s, the Detroit Tigers called him up to the Major Leagues. Kapler made his big league debut at 22-years-old the September prior, but was called up in April, 1999 for good. He played in 130 games for the Tigers in his rookie season. While his season statline wasn’t as brilliant as Tigers fans may have hoped, he did have a successful rookie year. Kapler slashed .245/.315/.447 while hitting 18 homeruns and driving in 49 runs. The strikeout number was at a professional high for Kapler in his rookie campaign, something that isn’t out of the ordinary for young hitters trying to get acclimated to Major League pitching.
Despite having a fairly successful first year, it would be his only with the Tigers at the Major League level, as he was part of a nine player trade with the Texas Rangers that saw Kapler, Al Webb, Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman and Justin Thompson going to the AL West Rangers and the Tigers getting Juan Gonzalez, Danny Patterson and Greg Zaun in return.
Kapler would open the 2000 season with the Texas Rangers, and was extremely productive. He appeared in 116 games, hitting .302 with 14 homeruns and 66 RBI’s, including two Opening Day homeruns. He also had a league high 28 game hitting streak during the season. 2001 was another solid season for Kapler, who, despite seeing a dip in his batting average to .267, saw an increase in productivity in most other offensive categories. In 134 games, Kapler belted 17 homeruns and drove in 72 runs, both career highs to that point. He also stole a career high 23 bases in 2001.
Kapler began the 2002 season with the Rangers once more, and hit .260 in 72 games. He failed to hit a single homerun and only drove in 17 runs in 196 at bats. Midway through the 2002 season, Kapler was again part of a multi-player trade, this time being shipped alongside Jason Romano to the Colorado Rockies for Todd Hollandsworth and Dennys Reyes. In his final 40 games with the Rockies in 2002, Kapler was much more productive, hitting .311 and matching his RBI total in Texas in 32 less games.
2003 saw Kapler playing for two teams again, as he began the year with the Rockies before being acquired by the Boston Red Sox in June. In totality, Kapler played in 107 games between the Rockies and Red Sox, hitting .271 with an on base percentage of .336 in primarily a bench player role. Kapler drove in 27 runs throughout 2003, including 23 with the Red Sox post trade. his average was significantly better with the Red Sox than with the Rockies, as Kapler hit just .224 in Colorado, but .291 in Boston.
In 2004, Kapler resigned with the Red Sox, and had a resurgent year. He appeared in 136 games for Boston, hitting .272, driving in 33 runs in 290 at bats. He won a World Series ring with the Red Sox that season, primarily appearing off the bench as a pinch hitter. It was the Red Sox first World Series title in 86 years, dating back to 1918.
Despite winning a World Series with the Red Sox, Kapler made a somewhat shocking move when he declined to resign with Boston and instead went over to Japan to play for the Yomiuri Giants. He was given a $2 million deal and a $700,000 signing bonus, which was nearly as much as the $750,000 salary the Red Sox were offering. Despite a change of scenery, success didn’t follow Kapler to Japan, as in 38 games he hit just .153 with three homeruns and six RBI’s. After those 38 games, Kapler was placed on the inactive list. After he cleared waivers in the Japanese Central League, Kapler returned to the United States, resigning with the Boston Red Sox. He played in an additional 36 games for the Red Sox, hitting .247 before a season ending Achilles injury shortened his 2005 campaign.
Just nine months after blowing out his Achilles, Kapler returned to the field for the Red Sox in June, 2006. He was able to play in 72 games, getting 147 at bats, hitting .254. Following the 2006 season, Kapler announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.
He got his first chance at managing the following season, as Kapler took over as the manager of the Red Sox’s Single A affiliate, the Greenville Drive. The team struggled, going 58-81 in the South Atlantic League in 2007.
After just one season as a manager, Kapler got the itch to return to playing. Prior to the 2008 seaosn, Kapler signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Hit .301 in 96 games for the Brewers in 2008 before a lat injury in his right shoulder cost him the final two weeks of the regular season. He was also left off the postseason roster due to that injury, as he was forced to be relegated to a spectator as he watches his Brewers fall to the Phillies in the NLDS. He was in the running for National League Comeback Player of the Year, but eventually lost that award to the Phillies’ own Brad Lidge.
Kapler signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason that year, spending his final two Major League seasons with the Rays, platooning with the likes of Matt Joyce and Gabe Gross. In his final 158 games over two seasons, Kapler struggled at the dish, hitting just .239 in 2009 and .210 in 2010.
Following the 2010 season, Kapler signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers with an invitation to spring training. He, however, didn’t make the Dodgers roster and eventually retired once again.
That opened the door for a second spin through the coaching carousel for Kapler, who managed Team Isreal in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The team failed to qualify for the tournament, however, as they lost to Spain in pool play. Kapler stepped aside from the game, once more, to work for Fox Sports One as a baseball analyst from the summer of 2013 until November of 2014. In November that year, Kapler joined the Dodgers organization as a Director of Player Development. In that role, he oversaw the entirety of the farm system, ensuring his players were getting the best both on and off the field. He served in this facet for almost three years.
This week, Kapler was hired to be the 54th manager of the Phillies. At just 41-years-old, he provides a youth infusion in the clubhouse that the players can relate to. He’s also an advanced metrics fan, ensuring that the process that Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak have begun to put in place continues to roll on. Finally, he is, quite possibly, the most in shape manager in the history of baseball. It sounds silly, but imagine going into lift and your manager is out-squatting you. Player won’t want that, and they’ll push harder in the weight room than in years past.
While Kapler has very little professional managing experience, there had to be many factors that the Phillies’ front office loved about him in order to hire him over candidates with more managerial experience, including Dusty Wathan and John Farrell. We’ll play the wait and see game on Kapler, who begins his tenure as the Phillies’ manager on February 23 in Clearwater when the Phils take on the University of Tampa.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)