December 06, 2017
The Phillies worked toward finalizing first-year manager Gabe Kapler’s coaching staff on Tuesday when they announced the hiring of former longtime New York Yankees coach Rob Thomson as the team’s new bench coach.
No, it’s not the Robby Thompson who played second base in the same San Francisco Giants infield as Will Clark and Matt Williams back in the day. Just as new assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero is not that Pedro Guerrero, or that new assistant pitching coach Chris Young isn’t that Chris Young, or that other Chris Young, either.
What we do know about the composition of Kapler’s coaching staff is that there are at least a couple of folks, like Kapler, that have a lack of major league coaching experience, and that it’s full of a lot of outsiders, too. With the exception of managerial candidate runner-up and new third base coach Dusty Wathan (12 straight years in the Phillies system as a minor league player/manager) and new pitching coach Rick Kranitz (who spent the last two seasons on the Phils coaching staff in other roles), Kapler’s guys are brand new to Philadelphia.
This isn’t a bad thing.
It’s been stated in this space plenty of times before that the Phillies have often been like another team in town (they wear orange and black) in recycling their own constantly and that they would benefit from bringing some new sets of eyes for outside perspective. And the Phillies have done that at nearly every turn lately, from the hiring of Andy MacPhail as team president 2 1/2 years ago to replacing born-and-bred Phillie Ruben Amaro Jr. with Matt Klentak, to the hiring of Kapler and many of Klentak’s top lieutenants in the front office, too.
But balance and diversity are important. These are words both Klentak and Kapler used when beginning their respective searches for managerial and coaching candidates.
And since the Phillies still have one vacancy remaining on their coaching staff (first base coach, which won’t be incumbent Mickey Morandini, who was named a club ambassador last week), we’re recommending they balance their coaching staff with someone familiar with the Phillies family or at least someone familiar with its players (and, yes, both Kranitz and Wathan already qualify for the latter).
So, without further ado, here are three ideas for the first base coaching job:
This feels obvious, right? Samuel is respected enough by Klentak and Co., that he was the first to interview for the manager’s job in early October, not long after Pete Mackanin was re-assigned. So he surely checks off the box of someone qualified enough and respected enough to fill out Kapler’s coaching staff. Samuel, who has worked primarily as the third base coach since rejoining the organization before the 2011 season, does have experience coaching first base, too, and as someone who stole 396 bases in his career, should surely have something to offer as a baserunning instructor, too (Morandini held this role in the last two seasons).
Last and certainly not least, Samuel has a strong relationship with mercurial center fielder Odubel Herrera, easily the most talented position player on the roster in the last three seasons (and the only player on a multi-year contract on the roster). It feels like Samuel’s a no-brainer for the job, but since he hasn’t been hired yet, perhaps not.
You know what wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world? Employing someone on your coaching staff who has experienced winning in Philadelphia. Thompson, who still lives in the area and recently worked as a coach in the Kansas City Royals system, would qualify. He platooned in left field for the wildly popular National League champion 1993 Phillies and he was the hitting coach for another two pennant winners, including the 2008 World Championship team.
Thompson had two separate stints in Philadelphia as a player (1986-88, 93-94) before returning to the organization as a coach in their minor league system in 1998, eventually earning a promotion to the major league coaching staff, coincidentally, as first base coach, under Larry Bowa in 2004. Thompson played for and/or worked with the likes of Bowa, John Vukovich, Jim Fregosi, and Dallas Green, among others. Having someone who could keep the teaching of “The Phillies Way” alive would be a nice element in a diverse coaching staff.
Like Juan Samuel and Dusty Wathan, Velandia was an internal candidate who interviewed for the Phillies managerial vacancy two months ago. So, like those two, he checks off the boxes of someone well respected and liked within the front office. And perhaps Klentak prefers keeping Velandia in his current role as one of four special assistants to the general manager in the baseball operations department, someone who can move between the major and minor leagues alike. But like Samuel, Velandia is very close with Odubel Herrera (he was instrumental in the Phillies selecting their current center fielder in the Rule 5 Draft three years ago this month).
Although both Pedro Guerrero and Jesus Tiamo (bullpen catcher) are currently employed by the team, having another smart, personable baseball man that can speak Spanish and related to the large contingent of Latino players in the dugout/coaching box sounds like a very good idea.
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Your reward for reading this far: a very special fourth idea for the first base coaching job...
Like Thompson, Lopes was on Charlie Manuel's coaching staff during the Phillies recent glory years. He was the team's first base coach from 2007-2010. Lopes is well regarded in the game for being especially adept as a baserunning coach, something that would be welcomed with the likes of Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera on the roster (and Scott Kingery coming up before long, too). The Phillies led all of baseball in stolen base percentage in the four seasons Lopes was on the coaching staff.
He spent the last two seasons on the Nationals coaching staff, but was not retained when Washington had their own managerial change two months ago. Lopes left the Phillies after a contract dispute following the 2010 season, but with new management in place, we're not sure that would be a deterrent to him considering rejoining the Phillies.
Lopes does turn 73 in May, but his knowledge would be a welcome addition no matter how long he remained on the staff.
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