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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

7/17/23 : Protecting the Standard

Player Development is a dedicated process, full of ups and downs that’s often criticized by those expecting immediate results.  When I first started writing about the Phillies player development endeavors the team had just started to begin a rebuild at the major league level in earnest after coming off a successful run of multiple winning seasons that were sparked by a core of internally developed players.  At that time there was an emphasis placed upon teaching baseball fundamentals which included a focus on winning games in the minor leagues, it was and remains a core element to the development protocol.  Where the organization lacked however and in fact was well behind other teams was the use of analytics, technology and sports science, the incorporation of advanced tools such as things like kinesiology to pinpoint development needs and support the teaching.

A new leadership team was brought in to incorporate and build out those aspects of the industry.  They were met by an internal wall that hindered the process, the protection of the “old school” philosophies often times butted heads with the “new approach”.  Even areas such as a sound nutritional plan were challenges to institute.  As a result boundaries were seemingly drawn and communication lacked.  The leadership did succeed in incorporating a more robust analytical approach and indoctrinated the franchise into ongoing programs such as mental health support and nutrition and sports science.  Individualized player plans were also an emphasis.  However the philosophical divide continued and communication became seemingly even more territorial.

Another change in leadership ensued.  In the player development department the challenge at hand was to resolve the philosophical/communication issues and merge the equally important factors of the experience of “old school” baseball with the “new approach” technology and science.  Preston Mattingly brought to the Player Development Director’s role a re-introduction albeit new definition of the “Phillies Way”.   Communication of expectations was a focus and a player development charter entitled  “Protect the Standard” was developed and instituted.  It’s become the vital backbone to the player development process and provides a discipline and mindset that is adhered to.  And while winning minor league games and placing importance on game action is part of that charter, as one coach told me “we play real baseball”, the continuation of individual player plans, a reinforcement on the focus on fundamentals, building team spirit in practices and games by making them both fun and inclusive and building a more uniform platform in technology and analytics from my view have been the key impacts.

There’s also been an incorporated structure that ties departments together such as scouting, training, medical and R&D so as to resolve previous communication concerns, many of which dated well into the past.  Acknowledging the importance of coaches having input whether they be young or old has also been an evolution, the consistency of teaching is important yet so is how to allow for individualized needs and attention.  In my view this group is very good at recognizing and addressing individual player improvement needs while maintaining a core approach.

It’s not been an overnight success nor can it be entirely attributed to one leadership group in particular as it has taken years to evolve albeit the present group deserves high praise for establishing an improved platform and structure along with the incorporation of improved communications and ongoing management.  There are still those, mostly external, who are territorially protective of approach, admittedly the use of the term “old school” drives me bonkers, however that’s seemingly always been the case in any endeavor to have detractors.  It’s human nature I suppose.

What we are seeing now is a compilation of on field team and individual successes, not that they didn’t happen before but the present day talent pool is deeper.  I’ve always felt that playing winning baseball was a key supportive element to player development and that team and organizational camaraderie brings a collective uplifting spirit.  As pointed out in a recent excellent article written by Alex Coffey of the Philadelphia Inquirer the current Clearwater Threshers team exemplifies that.  In my view the cutover began in the Dominican Summer League last season when the Phillies White team won the league championship, their jubilance as a training complex shined bright!  It’s not gone unincorporated as this season there’s been even more inclusion of the  Dominican Academy in the ongoing “Protect the Standard” collective process in regards to overall system uniformity.  Good stuff.

Rather than solely rely on my personal observations I decided to ask a question of the players themselves.  I sent out a note asking this : There’s still a bit to go in the season but was wondering what has stood out to you so far this year both personally and from a team and/or organization perspective that has impacted you the most?

Here are some of the responses :

“I really feel that we have had a good year, from the beginning we have prepared ourselves for each moment, we have had some setbacks but we continue to play hard and go out to give our best every day.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, that’s baseball, I trust my team and my manager that we will be in contention for the playoffs. The fact is that we are doing well, learning game by game, and always trying to do our best.”

“Player development wise I think they’ve done a great job. I have spent time in the hitting lab with Coach Zach Jones and it really helped me.”

“I’d say personally learning how my body works and how to use my pitch arsenal and being able to make adjustments pitch to pitch . From an organizational standpoint what has impacted me the most is just the communication between all the coaches for my development . After each outing we do an in depth review of what went well and what I need to work on I think that has helped me a lot!”

“The organization truly cares about each and every player. We have individualized plans to help us become the best player we can be.”

“One thing that has stood out to me is the talent level we have.  Both pitchers and position players have performed really well this year and it’s been cool to see people’s growth as players. Something that has impacted me the most is the organizations work ethic from top to bottom. The staff really cares and it’s been a nice thing to be part of.”

“Really, the impression that has impacted me is how we work, it's together and the camaraderie that we have is everything.”

“I’d say what’s impressed me the most personally is the respect that we have for one another. While it is normal for a work place to gather respect; this environment motivates you to truly earn that respect from your peers and instructors alike. It’s a great place to further improve one’s character. As an organization, it is very structured and detailed. The staff is very trust worthy and the instructors are very knowledgeable in their fields which gather trust and companionship. It’s a great system to be part of.”

“I just think staying consistent with your preparation and routines in between outings has been key for me and everyone in the organization does a great job putting a plan together to make sure you get what you need.”

“I think the culture has been the biggest change this year. At least from my observation, we play to win every game and that just challenges every guy to become the best version of themselves each day.”

“I’d say the rehab group has impacted me the most, they have done a really good job down in Florida to change the culture that rehab had before and make it more positive, it was like an extra team in the org that just didn’t play games, we kept each other going.”

“For me personally I’ve learned to be patient and as an org it’s how much they care about guys.”

“Previously I hadn’t pitched much due to injury, so I came back to spring training with a different mentality and the goal of showing everyone the player I really am. The positive energy in the clubhouse is something I’ve never seen in prior years of my career, it’s the driving force of the team.  Everybody has each other’s back no matter where you are from, we are all brothers and we fight all together. Talking about the organization I personally think this year is the best atmosphere. We have every type of coach that we need and everybody is open and talks with you. It’s a great thing we have here.”

“I’d have to say the amount of new staff members they’ve brought in for every aspect of the game from coaches to support staff that are extremely good at their jobs.”

“I would say I’m more comfortable this year because I know what to expect. it’s a long season, not a sprint!  Just showing up with the same consistent attitude no matter how good or bad I’m playing has helped me have more success this year.  I love all the coaches and the guys on the team so that has definitely helped as well.  Just having guys around you that believe in you and trust that you’re good takes a lot of the pressures of performance off of you.”

“The truth is that it amazes me to see the great team that we have, the encouragement of each of us in the club house is impressive. For everything we always seem united.   In my career in baseball I had never had to live this experience with a wonderful team like the one we have now.”

“A lot of talent throughout the system. A lot of smart people around this org.”

“This year I had a fresh slate with new eyes on me and just got back to what I did before.  Really just trusted myself and my abilities and I have had a great group of teammates and coaches that allowed me to be myself and brought the best out.  I think everything that the org has done (their communication along with the opportunities given to me) since I got to spring training on day one has given me confidence to just play.”

“I think what has stood out to me the most is that there is a lot of talk around winning, specifically in our clubhouse. Our staff and players are all focused towards that one goal. That has created a good atmosphere amongst the team. Personally I know that when winning is the most important thing to everyone, it makes me better.”

“Personally, I think I’ve been exposed to a lot more in terms of ways to grow and where I can get better, so it’s exciting to see that I still have a lot of ways to improve and grow. From the org perspective, it kind of goes hand in hand in that they have so many ways for us to develop and can give us a pretty clear picture on how to get there, which I think is a testament to both how much they’ve invested in player development and how skilled the staff as a whole is.”

“I would definitely say everyone’s working on getting each other better and that’s something thats important to help the team win. Personally I think it’s impacted me when I was struggling and I worked more on my mechanics and just mentally trying to become a better pitcher.”

Just sayin, structure allows protocol, positivity breeds community, collaboration builds unity and communication commits understanding.  To me that’s a great platform.

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

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