KAP: The Bold Story of Gabriel Kapler

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Written by: Mike Duffy


Cover Art by Paine Proffitthttp://www.paineproffitt.com
Exclusive Interviews with
Chase De Jong, Greg Venger, John Stolnis, & Chase Kaper

Last offseason, one of the biggest surprises was the hire of Gabe Kapler to be the new manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a move on the bolder side, for general manager Matt Klentak, who was given the green light to make his first managerial hire. Kapler was the runner-up for the Dodger gig two seasons before in 2016, having been their Director of Player development.

Kapler has a more bold and analytical approach to the game. This, on top of a few more characteristics, made him a unique choice for a Phillies organization that is familiar to more of a traditional approach to baseball. He has had a rollercoaster first year as manager, and a very interesting journey into baseball which I was just excited to find more about.


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August 7: Nick Williams celebrates with manager Gabe Kapler after homering in the third inning. Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

So one Thursday during lunch I swung by the main office at my school (Cleveland High School) to speak to the Athletic Director, Greg Venger. He noticed that I had a Phillies shirt on and mentioned that he had gone to Taft High School with Gabe Kapler. In ‘93 while Greg was the JV shortstop his sophomore year, Kapler was the varsity shortstop. During the playoffs Greg was brought up to Varsity, allowing for some memorable moments for Greg, where he was able to watch and model after someone who was soon to become a major leaguer.


“Gabe was a great teammate great guy. Well liked by everybody very popular in high school,” said Greg. “He was a gym rat always working hard to stay in shape. His group friends were a nice good circle of friends, they are lawyers or stockbrokers, they’re all doing successful so yeah you know they all figured out their niche in life.” 


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Photo: 1993 Taft Yearbook / Gabriel Kapler (left) in his Senior year.                                    (photo found by Mike Duffy)

Greg was telling me about how “people liked to be around him,” and the positive bolt of energy people would get when he walked into a room. He also recalled some memories from their times on the field: 

“We won the game against Kennedy High School, but ended playing in the semifinals against Chatsworth and we got blown out like 17 to 1. His leadership with that group of guys pretty special group he had his senior year. Gabe was definitely the catalyst to my team. ” 

Also, we talked about how currently while managing he stresses the idea of drawing a lot of walks and telling them to take pitches. I asked Greg if Gabe took a lot of pitches, and Greg laughed and said: 

“He was an aggressive guy. He never saw more than a few pitches when he was hitting. He was always up there to hit he did not wanna walk, he had a lot of pop. Back in the day, Taft high school fence in left field was like 330ft and like 408ft to straightaway center. Now they have a different fence up there. If Gabe played there right now, he would’ve broke the state record for home run, guaranteed.”


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After graduating from Taft High School he attended a Division 1 school, Cal State Fullerton. It didn’t work out there for Gabe, so he ended up going back to Moorpark College. He got noticed there and he got drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 57th round in the 1995 Draft.

“He just peaked at the right time,” Venger said. “And that was the big thing.”


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Gabe played fifteen seasons of professional baseball and has the highest career WAR of anyone drafted in the 57th round. During the twelve seasons in the MLB, he played for the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and the Tampa Bay Rays in. In 2004 he won the World Series with the Boston Red Sox.


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After winning the World Series with Boston, he went to Japan to play some baseball where he ruptured his Achilles. The Red Sox organization offered him his first and only managerial job before coming to the Phillies with the Sox Low-A team, the Greenville Drive.  The team had a record of 58 – 81 in his two seasons with them before returning to playing baseball for three more years.


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Gabe Kapler accepting the job with the Greenville Drive

While he was working hard on his career, he always made time for his two sons. I spoke with his son Chase Kapler. Here’s what Chase had to say about his father:

“I have to credit him for how independent and self-starting I am, from a very young age he trusted me to make my own decisions and face my own consequences for those decisions. He also never pressured me to be anybody that he wanted me to be. He was very supportive of what I wanted and what I needed.” 


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Gabe Kapler (right) with his two sons Chase (center) and Dane (left).

When officially hanging up his glove he dabbled around in different forms of media. In 2013 he was an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Then using his love for “the importance of training outdoors and clean eating. To that end, he took to sharing information in 2013 and started a health and well-being blog at Kaplifestyle.com. ” 


He used his knowledge of fitness and health to land him the job of Director of Player Development with the Los Angeles Dodgers in November of 2014. The press told two stories of how he was doing at that post, one that we see now, with all the amazing prospects that have come through that system like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Austin Barnes, and so many more. This shows that Gabe was doing something right with that system. The other narrative was one that talked about how he just came into the system and took out all the unhealthy food in all the clubhouses of the system and made them follow strict diets. We never really heard what the players thought of that, but obviously Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman liked what he was doing and made him a frontrunner for the manager position. Gabe lost it to Dave Roberts in the end.


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Gabe Kapler, seen here during spring training in 2015 with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Photo credit: Jon SooHoo | LA Dodgers

I was curious to hear what some of the players thought about Gabe when he was Director of Player development. I followed up with, Major League pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, Chase De Jong, who I originally interviewed back in 2017.

De Jong, who was originally a Dodger prospect, said he “enjoyed being under his leadership. Our minor league organization thrived under it.” 

I asked him if he mentioned any of his goals for his future in baseball, and if he was preaching about being bold in Los Angeles like he is now doing in Philadelphia:

“Yes Gabe was always clear about being bold.  We all knew that he had aspirations to be a major league manager. He’s a leader in whatever he does. He was very passionate about what he believed in he always entertained other points of view and I think that’s an incredible quality to have. Gabe I believe desires knowledge and wisdom above everything else. He’s a learner.” 


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This passion of learning and determination to be as knowledgeable about every player and the game is what caught the eye of GM Matt Klentak. Before the 2018 season, Kapler was signed to a 3 year managerial deal.


“They needed a new culture,” suggest Greg Venger on why Klentak hired Kapler. “But some of the old school Phillies fans might not like that so much. I think that his young energy and his intensity is what that organization needed. It’s maybe for some of them an acquired taste. But as a coach winning cures everything. You win everyone’s gonna love you.”  


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AP Images

For Kapler, his first week was really rough. He pulled Aaron Nola early on Opening Day, and then the bullpen blew the game that was filled with miscommunications. He was also greeted with boos at the home opener. During all of this, Kapler stayed positive and said they would definitely go to the playoffs.  Most people thought he was on something but Greg Venger suggested that “there is a little bit of arrogance about him, because he is confident. So the players, they like the confidence, they relate to that because that’s how the players are too.”


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Sept. 25: The skipper! Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

I reached out to Writer & Podcaster for SB Nation’s The Good Phight, John Stolnis, where he focuses on covering the current Phillies. He falls in the middle on the Kapler spectrum like most other writers but I challenged him to put away the criticism and just focus on the positives of his rookie season. 

“I think my favorite thing about Kapler this year was how he was at least willing to try things that were different. I didn’t agree with all of what he did, and late in the season I thought he tried to do too much. But I liked that he wasn’t afraid, and I think he has shown a willingness to take criticism and to learn,” Stolnis said.

Greg Venger agreed with Stolnis and had this to say about Gabe’s first year of managing:

“I’m sure he would be the first to tell you the game part he’s still learning it. The game is different from it used to be. And it’s evolved. So when he came up as a player it was more of a small ball steal bases and now it’s more of strikeouts and guys hitting home runs.”  – Greg Venger


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April 5: The Phillies line the base path for pre-game festivities at the Phillies Home Opener. Philadelphia Phillies

After that first rough week, the Phillies turned it all around. They were in first place for over a month. At one point they even were 63- 48! It looked like Kapler would win Manager of the Year. The Phillies were in first place, had a really good division lead, and the Nationals were falling off a cliff.  Gabe’s son, Chase said his favorite moments of this successful part of the season were “either the Maikel Franco walk off or Nola out-dueling Scherzer twice.”


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July 31: Maikel Franco returns to the dugout after scoring in the fourth inning. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

But then the bad skid happened, the really bad skid. The Phillies went 8-20 for the rest of the season in September and they were not able to get that postseason chance they were hoping for.  The pitching staff looked tired and bats were not coming alive.


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August 19: The Phillies line up for the national anthem before the MLB Little League Classic game. Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos

Although the Phillies finished 2 wins below .500, they showed improvement from the year before. The ride has just begun for Gabe Kapler and he is ready to get back out there next season with something to prove to the city of brotherly love. Gabe wants to make sure he can be the manager of the next Phillies World Series team rather than finding himself on the hot seat.


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Thank you Paine Proffitt, Chase De Jong, Greg Venger, John Stolnis, & Chase Kapler, and everyone else who helped out on this article.


Additional Sources:

https://www.phillymag.com/news/2018/03/24/gabe-kapler-phillies-manager/

https://theathletic.com/141869/2017/10/30/phillies-bold-pick-of-gabe-kapler-as-manager-shows-clubs-focus-on-analytics/

https://www.phillyvoice.com/who-gabe-kapler-dozen-fun-facts-about-new-phillies-manager/

http://www2.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/gabe-kapler-phillies-moorpark-college-cal-state-fullerton-detroit-tigers-fitness-journey-20180525.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabe_Kapler


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2018 Photo Review #3 – What an awesome display of sportsmanship! Both the Phillies and Mets lined up for handshakes after the 2018 MLB Little League Classic. Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos.            “If you get those guys to believe that they can do it. Then they can do it, and they’re young and they’re talented and they’re going to go through their ups and downs during a 162 games and you’re going to have your slumps you’re going to go through your hot streak. Everything is fantastic at that time. But when things aren’t going well. It’s about how  you respond to that.”           – Greg Venger

 

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Max Muncy, That Funky Muncy!

Friday: June 15, 2018

by Brandon Gutierrez

One of the many surprises this year around the league, has been the Dodgers’ Max Muncy. He has been called “This years’ Chris Taylor,” and for good reason. Entering play on Friday, he has a slash line of .277 / .395 / .631. His 1.030 OPS is 5th in MLB (min. 150 PA). His 176 wRC+ trails only Mookie Betts and Mike Trout (min. 150 PA). Last year in Triple A, he hit 12 HRs in 109 games. This year in the majors, Muncy has hit 13 through 46 games. But how is he doing this?

It’s deffinitley not on cutting strikeouts. In 2016 with Oakland, Muncy had a 18.0 K %. This year, 24.8 %. It is also not with walks. 15.0 BB% in 2016, 15.9 BB % this year. It’s not like he is chasing at less pitches. 20.5 O-swing  % compared to 19.4 %. So what gives?

What Muncy did do is decrease his groundball rate drastically. 2016, 51.2 %.  This year with the Dodgers 33.7 %. His average launch angle went from 10.4 degrees to 16.7.He is also crushing the ball tremendously more than he did with the A’s. 29.2 % hard hit rate compared to 45.7 % with the Dodgers. His average exit velocity has risen to a 91.9 mph from 82.3 mph. All these stats have combined to a  29.4 HR/FB %. and a .445 xWOBA.

What Muncy has really improved on, is crushing pitches he should crush. Below I have two charts of Muncy’s SLG. for each quadrant of the strike zone.

SLG in 2016

SLG in 2018

As you can see, he’s starting to destroy more middle-middle pitches in 2018

In conclusion, Max Muncy has not done anything with his strike outs and walks. But a combination of hitting the ball harder, hitting the ball in the air more, and mashing on pitchers mistakes. Has led to a break out season.

Sources:

Baseball Savant

Baseball Reference

Fangraphs

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Ross Stripling Interview: Being A Part of a Special Team

The K Zone

April 14th 2018

Ross Stripling

Interviewed By Mike Duffy


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Ross Stripling is a part of one of the most historic franchises, the Dodgers. When Stripling made a move to the bullpen, his versatility made him a cornerstone of the Dodgers who would go to the World Series in 2017. This year the Dodgers look to win it all, and with their young talent, they will be a dominant team for years to come.


Mike Duffy: You made a big step last year when you became more versatile, moving to the bullpen to adapt to the Dodgers’ depth. Was it a tough process or were you surprised at how well it worked out?

Ross Stripling: I struggled when I first went to the bullpen. I had a hard time finding a routine that kept me fresh both mentally and physically. I didn’t know when to lift, how hard to condition, how much preparation and scouting I needed to do. Once I found a consistent routine, which wasn’t until a few months into the season, I was able to relax and really enjoy the bullpen role. It’s always different and way more intense so it’s a lot of fun.


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Mike Duffy: There is no doubt that the Dodgers have all the pieces to bring home a ring to Los Angeles. What has it been like to be one of those pieces along with other young guys like Corey, Cody, and Chris, and the wise mentors like Kershaw and Chase?

Ross Stripling: I’ve been totally spoiled so far in my big league career. A lot of wins and 2 deep playoff runs. It’s pretty special to be apart of a team like this, to think one day I’ll be able to tell my grandkids I played with Kersh, Seager, Bellinger, Kenley, etc. At first I just felt like such a small piece, but as you get more experience and more comfortable, you start to feel like you belong around guys like that. Especially since they’re all such great guys and teammates, friends I’ll have for life.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite baseball memory?

Ross Stripling: I have a few favorite baseball memories. I would say the no hitter I threw in college the day I was supposed to walk across the stage to graduate, with all my family in town, is maybe my favorite. My debut was obviously another one that I’ll remember forever.


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Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite player and role model growing up?

Ross Stripling: My favorite player growing up was probably Ken Griffey Jr. I was also a huge A-Rod fan when he was on the Rangers. A baseball role model was always Cal Ripken Jr., he was my older brothers favorite player and just a guy that played the game the right way.


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Mike Duffy: In what ways has playing in a World Series changed your life?

Ross Stripling: For one, I think the World Series kinda puts your baseball career into perspective. Nothing else will ever be as high pressured or as intense as those games. I pitched in those games and survived so I should be able to handle anything moving forward in my career. Also I was able to pitch in Houston in front of dozens of friends and family, something we’ll be able to remember and talk about for the rest of our lives which is pretty special.


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Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite movie?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Movie is Good Will Hunting.


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Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite TV show?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Tv show is Entourage.


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Mike Duffy: Who’s your favorite musician?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Musician is Garth Brooks.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite hobby besides baseball?

Ross Stripling: My favorite hobby is trading on the stock market.


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Mike Duffy: Bucket-list item?

Ross Stripling: A Bucket list item would be to take a vacation with my wife/family every year.


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Mike Duffy: Do you have any advice for young kids playing the game?

Ross Stripling: I would just tell kids to play the game hard and have fun. It’s taken so serious these days with travel ball and baseball year round. Play the game with passion  and get better every time you take the field, and let the rest take care of itself. Everyone matures at different rates and ages, so just control what you can control and play the game because you love it.


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Trevor Oaks- Blessed with Success

-The K Zone-

November 3rd 2016

Updated on July 13th 2017

Trevor Oaks

Interviewed by Mike Duffy

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In 2016 Trevor Oaks had arguably his best season, where he never pitched less than five innings in a game, he had three 8 inning games, one complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts and 3-Hits. He is also ranked in MLB Pipeline’s top 30 dodger prospects this year! His talent and respect are something to lookout for in the years to come! Hope you enjoy my interview with Dodger Prospect Trevor Oaks.


Mike Duffy: Going 14-3 this year what worked so well with your delivery of your pitches?

Trevor Oaks: A lot of my success this year had to do with sticking to what I do well. A lot of baseball trends are starting to go towards high velocity and nasty strikeout stuff. While that’s definitely valuable and helpful, (stuff that I want too) I just tried to go out there and get quick ground balls using my sinker/cutter combo. If I can get my team in a position to win after 6 innings, I’ve done my job. But my separator is how efficient I can be and how many innings can I accumulate in the season



Mike Duffy: As a pitcher in a dominant rookie pitcher organization how hard is it to fight for an everyday spot to start?

Trevor Oaks: It’s definitely challenging to not think about at times- Looking back at this past season, I was just trying to focus on each start, each pitch at a time. I can’t worry about what other guys are doing. I’m gonna go out there and compete and do my best. Obviously I’d love to play for the Dodgers and contribute to their success someday, but I also understand there’s 29 other teams that may need a starter that can go 6-7 innings. I’m that guy and I want to do that for a club next season



Mike Duffy: What is your number one goal your going to focus on in the offseason?

Trevor Oaks: This offseason I’m primarily focusing on improving my stuff. I want a better, more consistent change up. I’m also thinking about adding a splitter so I can try to get that strikeout pitch. But ultimately I want to fine tune my command. I can throw a lot of strikes and I keep it down for the most part. But I really want to put the ball where I want and consistently keep the ball at the shins or below.



Mike Duffy: Besides baseball what’s your favorite hobby?

Trevor Oaks: I love messing around on the piano and I love spending time with people I care about. I’ve been volunteering at CBU (California Baptist University)  as a pitching coach, so it’s awesome to have the opportunity to invest into younger guys and help them develop and improve in order to fulfill their dreams. It’s still baseball, but I look at it as using what I can to help other people. That’s my hobby!


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Mike Duffy: Besides your hard work who else do you dedicate your success to?

Trevor Oaks: God deserves all the credit. My career and success all go to him and he directs my path. He has put a lot of great mentors in my life to guide me and help me along the way. From a mental standpoint, my college coach, Gary Adcock, instilled a lot of good mindsets and philosophies that I have changed my whole career. My grandpa, Ade Moss, is also another mentor that continually helps me in all aspects of my life. And of course my parents. They have always done their best and supported me!



Mike Duffy: Which batter has been the biggest challenge for you?

Trevor Oaks: Danny Volgebach had my number pretty good. But you could say that for just about everyone on our pitching staff. That guy absolutely rakes. I had a tough time with the rangers affiliates. They seem to like big lefties, and if my changeup isn’t on that day, I have a tough time throwing to Joey Gallo and guys like that



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Mike Duffy: Is there anyone in the Majors right now who comes to mind when you think of being supportive of you?

Trevor Oaks: I haven’t gotten a ton of opportunities to talk to a lot of big league guys. But Brock Stewart has been a good friend since we got drafted together in 14. Ross Stripling is another great friend and teammate. He’s helped me out a lot and accepted me when I was adjusting to the new environment. Howie Kendrick talked to me when he was rehabbing in Rancho. Super nice guy and had a lot of good baseball knowledge. You definitely try to pick at their brains and try to soak up anything you can.


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Mike Duffy: Who is the biggest leader on your team?

Trevor Oaks: Biggest Leader for me was Charlie Culberson. He had an interesting leadership style. He isn’t afraid of talking and saying what he thinks. But he normally chose to lead by example. He just plays the game the way it should be played. Very professional and personable guy. He was kind and accepting of everyone, and genuinely cared for his teammates. Can’t say good enough things about the guy!


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Mike Duffy: What changed in Puig’s attitude when you were down in OKC that made him perform better?

Trevor Oaks: I was very observant of Puig. The media always portrays people and puts different spins on situations. I wanted to see what he was really like. I found Puig to be a very passionate player and enjoyable to be around. There were some ways where he was still maturing and adjusting to American Baseball, but I thought he handled that situation very well. He worked hard, went in the cage early before most of the guys got to the field, and hit a ton of balls in the cage. He worked hard and I was very impressed by the way he handled the situation. The fans were brutal to him, and maybe some of that he brought on himself. But you gotta give the guy some credit for manning up and making the changes he needed to.


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Mike Duffy: Do you consider yourself a leader on and off the field?

Trevor Oaks: I want to be a leader and I think I have the capacity to do that. But I think at this point in my career, I’m in a position of learning and following the examples of other guys who have been playing for a while. My role is to be a sponge and soak up as much as I can while I’m here and have great teammates to learn from.


Mike Duffy: What is your number one goal for the team in the second half of the season?

Trevor Oaks: I think our primary goal is to contribute to the big league team and help them win a World Series. Our secondary goal is to get in the playoffs and win a PCL championship.


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Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite player?

Trevor Oaks: I didn’t really have a favorite player growing up. I always liked watching Kershaw when he was just coming on to the scene.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite baseball memory?  

Trevor Oaks: My favorite baseball memory would be winning the Cal League championship, or this year when I hit a home run and threw 7 innings against the Baby Cakes.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite stadium?

Trevor Oaks: My favorite Stadium I’ve played in the Minors would be either the Dayton Dragons or in Tulsa. Good atmosphere, great playing surface!


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Mike Duffy: Growing up what team was your favorite?

Trevor Oaks: My favorite team was a toss up between the Angels and the Dodgers. I would always watch Angel games because the stadium was closer to my house. But I started liking the Dodgers when I was 12 and it was a dream come true to be drafted by them.


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Mike Duffy: What are your favorite movies and tv shows?

Trevor Oaks: My favorite movie is tough! I’d say Gladiator or Braveheart. Favorite TV show is between Game of Thrones and The Office.


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Mike Duffy: When did you know you wanted to be a professional ball

player?

Trevor Oaks: When I was playing ball at Biola University, I was starting to get some interest from scouts. I wouldn’t allow myself to seriously consider it until I knew there was a chance.


Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite part of the Dodgers organization?

Trevor Oaks: My favorite part of the Dodgers organization is their coaching staff. They have done such a good job of placing good people in coaching positions. It’s been a blessing to get to know all the staff, top to bottom. It really shows that they care about developing good players and people!


 

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Outtakes…


Mike Duffy What did you think about the World Series game?

Trevor Oaks: One of the best World Series I’ve seen! Congrats to the Cubs organization! Lots of hard work goes into that. It’s a long season and I tip my cap to those guys. Hopefully the Dodgers can do that next season!


Mike Duffy: Thank you for doing this!  Maybe some day I’ll interview you in person when your pitching for the Dodgers on the big stage! Thanks again and have a great night!

Trevor Oaks: Yeah no problem! Glad I could help! Good luck




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Sliding into the Dm with Grant Dayton

-The K Zone-

November 2nd 2016

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As the seasons change and baseball season ends it’s time to look back and see what each team has in place for next year. One team that is especially set for next year is the Dodgers. This year the Dodgers had a record breaking amount of injuries which made them rely on numerous rookies like Corey Seager, Julio Urias, Ross Stripling, Rob Segedin, Brock Stewart, and Grant Dayton. Today I was fortunate enough to interview Grant Dayton who was a key part of the Dodgers making the postseason. Since his Major League debut on July 22 he has struck out 39 batters with an ERA of 2. I hope everyone can get inspired by his message so pull up a chair and get ready for the K zones interview with Grant Dayton.    

Mike Duffy: I was wondering when you transition from high school, college, minor leagues, to the majors, what is the biggest challenge you face when you reach each stage?

Grant Dayton: I’ve never really thought each level had its own particular challenges. Every time I moved up, I realized real quick that the game is the same. Margin for error is definitely smaller, and there’s more people around every time I moved up, but the game is exactly the same.

MD: How long does it take you to level down and feel at ease and confident in yourself that you can handle the new changes?

Grant Dayton: I think the realization of that during my career made the translation to the majors easier. Some people have trouble blocking out all of the extra ‘noise’ that comes along with moving up, but I think it’s important to learn that You have to trust that the work you put in, real work, will show up during the games. Never go through the motions. Always motivate yourself to work. The most talented usually get weeded out because they didn’t learn how to work. Real talent is rare, and those who have it usually don’t learn to work. Don’t underestimate what hard work will do for you.

“Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”– Derek Jeter

MD: Thanks! That’s really interesting! I was really curious about how it felt and I really appreciate you getting back to me! I can’t wait to see you succeed again next year, best of luck!

Grant Dayton: No problem. Thanks!

Check out my Interview with Zach Eflin and my article on Rookie Salaries! Also read Ian’s article on WAR.

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