An Interview with Gabe Kapler

Harry How

Gabe Kapler played in the Tampa Bay outfield from 2009 to 2010, and joined the Rays front office shortly thereafter. Joe Maddon recently described Kapler as, "possibly the best teammate you've ever had in your life."

This week he will be joining the newly formed Fox Sports 1 as an MLB Analyst when it premiers on August 17th.

***

Daniel Russell: You've been working with the Rays front office for the past few years. What has your role been like?

Gabe Kapler: I'd call my role with the Rays a combination of scouting and player development. It's been an honor to be a part of one of the greatest and most progressive organizations in all of sports.

Russell: Marc Topkin wrote this spring that you might have an interest in returning to coaching when your sons are older, and you previously managed the Red Sox Class-A affiliate in Greenville, SC (in 2007).

Having now worked with Joe Maddon, and the Rays front office, would your approach to managing be any different than your previous experience?

Kapler: If and when the time comes for me to return to the field, which I anticipate at some point will occur, my style will be tailored to my role.

Managing entry-level professional players is a drastically different animal than the role of an MLB pitching coach, or amateur scout, etc. Every job in existence in baseball requires not only a different skill set, but management style as well.

Russell: In the mean time, you've published some incredible articles over the past few months. You're beginning to gain a reputation as a prolific writer.

Is sports writing a hobby, or something you'd consider doing long term?

Kapler: My favorite element re: writing is the inherent lack of boundaries on time. I can flesh out a topic in depth, and have an opportunity to re-read my sentiment for accuracy, and in doing so stay true to my vantage point.

Russell: It's evident you have a clear voice and perspective for the current state of baseball. Joining Fox Sports 1 as seems like a natural progression. Was joining the upstart sports network an easy decision?

Kapler: Yeah, it was an easy decision for two reasons.

First, my family is in Los Angeles, as is Fox Sports 1. I've always valued the capability to watch my sons grow above all else. Otherwise, I'd be working in baseball full time. And secondly, the extraordinary team intact at Fox Sports 1 made the affiliation one worth working hard to attain.

I believe that the network is uniquely positioned to capture the attention of sports fans in a progressive, exciting way. I'm grateful for the opportunity to add value and I intend to win big with this group.

Russell: You recently named Yasiel Puig the future "Face of Baseball," especially if he can pick up a significant contract with a company like Nike. Do you think Baseball needs to be doing more to increase the star status of prospects?

Kapler: I actually suggested that Yasiel Puig is the one player in Major League Baseball that has the necessary attributes to be the face of baseball; akin to Lebron James in the NBA because of his otherworldly talent and marketable personality coupled with his now Los Angeles home.

I was merely suggesting that he has the gifts to be the future face of baseball, not that he certainly will be.

I think from a business perspective, baseball could do a better job of marketing great minor league baseball players, but I think we have a unique opportunity to educate fans worldwide about MLB in general and should be doing so first, before attempting to spotlight the profiles of the youngsters. Both are important, I'm just prioritizing.

Russell: Wil Myers has turned out to be somewhat of a foil to Puig -- a steely demeanor at the plate (short of his patented but subtle bat flip on home runs), humble in his celebrations, not as reckless in his fielding. What do you think of the rookie who's manning your old position in right field?

Kapler: Wil is so fun to watch. I love to track the ball off his bat when he catches it squarely and on a line.

He's not a finished product and that's part of what makes him so intriguing. As much as I'm enjoying him this year, I anticipate being awed by him in future seasons.

Russell: What do you make of Wil Myers's fielding thus far?

Kapler: I haven't seen much of Wil's defense at the MLB level, but I saw him for several days in AAA.

I saw him get good jumps and take quality routes to the ball. He displayed accuracy on his throws and solid instincts in general in the outfield. He's got work to do to improve on "D", but who doesn't?

In particular, I think it would serve Wil well to add some rhythm to his setup before a pitch is thrown. That said, Larry Walker had the same approach as the ball crossed the plate, and he was a pretty good outfielder.

Russell: How different is it playing baseball as part of a platoon? Do you think platooned hitters face any significant struggles? (or should they?)

Kapler: Playing as part of a platoon was easier. I sucked vs. righties and was serviceable vs. lefties. My competitiveness forced me to yearn to play daily, but my brain knew that I was more valuable as part of a platoon.

Russell: A recent article of yours highlighted the need for player education in advanced statistics, especially in assessing their own value. Guys like yourself and Sam Fuld are clearly informed, but can you comment on how involved the Rays are in teaching their players?

Kapler: The Rays are consistently looking for effective ways of delivering the best information available. As with anything worthwhile, there are challenges related. The one thing I can tell you emphatically is that the desire to help players understand their strengths and weaknesses is squarely intact.

Russell: If there's one thing the Rays organization taught you about advanced statistics and player evaluations that you'd carry with you throughout the rest of your career, what would it be?

Kapler: I don't really learn like that. Rather, I'm inspired by a collection of lessons and devouring an overarching theme. With the Rays, I continued my education on keeping an open mind and putting my emotional, personal bias aside in an effort to better absorb new information.

Russell: Your role with Fox Sports 1 will be as an Analyst. How much of that was a product of your recent foray into writing? Do you see this as a platform to share more of your knowledge and influence the game?

Kapler: My work with Fox Sports 1 is independent of my writing for now, but I absolutely love to watch and analyze baseball. My upcoming work will simply provide an outlet to do just that.

My intention is to bring a different style of sports analysis, while keeping with the light, fun mood of Fox Sports 1. The team of producers, executives and talent is strikingly equipped to deliver a superb product. It's a very exciting time, indeed.

Russell: Speaking of fun: When you Google your name, this is still the first image that pops up. Any regrets behind that photo shoot?

Kapler: If I didn't do that photo shoot, I'd have one less thing to make fun of myself about. I use it all the time as part of banter. The trick is to get to it before my teammates do.

"Hey Troy Percival, want me to sign the one of me in the leopard skin?" I beat them to the punch. It paralyzes them!

Russell: Do you have a favorite memory from playing with the Rays?

Kapler: My favorite memories are always of the off-the-field variety.

For instance, I loved David Price's violent, passionate high fives, Davey Martinez's hugs after a big play, deep conversations with Ben Zobrist, learning from Erik Neander... I could go on and on. The Rays are a spectacular organization with amazing people from top to bottom.

Oh, I almost forgot the best answer to this question! The NCAA pool in spring training and our 2009 fantasy football league were immeasurably enjoyable; particularly stealing players from a young, naïve Evan Longoria. And Andrew trying to trade me Matt Schaub (or similar player) with the same intensity with which he approaches an MLB deadline deal.

Russell: The Rays have had a strong offense this season, and up until this week, strong pitching to back that up. Is the vibe any different in the front office this season compared to previous seasons?

Kapler: The vibe of the Rays front office has always been and always will be upbeat, positive, hardworking and progressive. That energy doesn't fluctuate based on season, nor should it. At least that's the way my eyes see it.

Russell: Will you be able to continue working with the Rays while reporting for Fox Sports 1?

Kapler: My role will be diminished due to constraints on my time, but I'll find a way to help. I would feel incomplete otherwise.

Russell: Glad to hear it. Any plans to join Fox's Saturday broadcast crew? They'd be lucky to have you.

Kapler: Ha, that would have more to do with Fox's plans, wouldn't it?

***

Gabe Kapler is an Analyst for Fox Sports 1. He spent twelve years in the major leagues as a player and manager. You can follow him on twitter @gabekapler.

Fox Spots 1 launches on August 17th. From all of us at DRaysBay, thank you and good luck!

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