Phil DePase is becoming accustomed to life on the road.
Two weeks ago, it was a minicamp in Arlington, Texas. Next came a trip to the Dominican Republic. Immediately upon returning home to Maryland, he set off on the long drive to Arizona. In about two months, he heads to Nashville for the summer.
Such is life in professional baseball.
DePase, a North East High School graduate, accepted a job last month in the Texas Rangers organization. He will serve as a data apprentice with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m excited,” DePase said. “My job to take all the tech and the data it produces and kind of analyze it and communicate with coaches about how we’re going to use it to make players better. On top of that, I also handle some scouting report stuff about the teams we’re going to face.”
DePase attended the University of Maryland after graduating from North East in 2012. He became a student manager for the Terrapins baseball team right away with some help from a Cecil County connection.
“Within a week or two of starting at Maryland, I reached out to Jimmy Belanger, who actually pitched at Cecil and then went on and pitched at Louisville. He was the pitching coach at Maryland at the time,” DePase explained. “He’d just taken the position, so I reached out to him about being a student manager. He sent my contact information on to our head coach – coach Joe Szefc.”
Student managers wear many hats, from helping in practice preparations and equipment to video analysis.
“I was a four-year student manager there,” DePase said. “This is all while I’m getting my degree in mathematics, which I’m actually really proud of my math degree. I worked really, really hard for that.”
His math degree and experience with video analysis helped DePase land his first job after graduation. At that time, Belanger was leaving Maryland to become the pitching coach at the University of Kentucky. The Kentucky staff happened to be searching for a video coordinator.
“It really helped that I developed that relationship with Coach Belanger, because that’s kind of what helped springboard me,” DePase said. “He remembered me and the work I had done with him and our video system at Maryland. He knew I was a hard worker, so he recommended me for the position. He put me in contact with our head coach at Kentucky, Nick Mingione.”
Belanger said he didn’t do DePase any favors. He was just making an obvious choice.
“You know what you’re getting everyday out of Phil. Probably the best compliment that I can give him is that you never have to ask him to do anything twice,” Belanger said. “At Kentucky, we were looking more for someone who can do the video side and then could start to get into analytics side of things. Phil was just a no brainer. He was a mathematics major at Maryland. He’s super smart and it was an area that he wanted to be in. I knew that, so when it came open, it was a pretty easy decision on our part.”
After two years as Kentucky’s video coordinator, DePase was promoted to director of player development.
“That entailed a lot more of the data side of things,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. It was easy to come to work everyday because it was fun. It was no longer work. I got to sit there and develop how I wanted to develop. That was key to me at Kentucky, not only did I have the opportunity, but our head coach gave me the freedom to develop how I wanted to develop. I taught myself a bunch of stuff.”
DePase rattled off a lengthy list of software programs he had to become familiar with. He taught himself to code as well.
“He basically taught himself everything. When we got TrackMan, it’s not like we had someone on staff who was familiar with TrackMan and could teach him the ins and outs of it. He learned it himself. Same thing with Rapsodo and Blast motion and all these things that are used by Major League organizations and bigger Division I programs,” said Belanger, who is now the pitching coach at Florida State. “He’s just a learner. He’d go learn it himself. He learned how to code and all these key traits for the area he’s in now. He taught himself and then he would teach our whole coaching staff.
“He would kind of figure out what would be good for our staff and what would be good for our players, and then he’d coach us on it and then we’d talk to our players about it. And there would be times when our players would go straight to him and ask him questions.”
DePase stressed that the resources are there for anyone who wants to follow his footsteps into a career in baseball analytics.
“A lot of people asked me how I learned some of this stuff. There are so many resources out on the internet right now it’s unbelievable,” he said. “Right now, I have a Google Doc I want to say is like 35-40 pages long. It’s just links to articles I’ve either read or need to read. If you take advantage of the opportunity, you can actually do it. You just need to be committed to actually learning this stuff.”
He was able to teach himself the technology and the numbers, but said he relied on coaches along the way to teach him what’s important in baseball.
“I learned so much of the baseball knowledge from all the coaches in between. I’m just now able to connect the data to the coaches,” DePase said. “A big part of this is understanding what data points matter and which ones don’t. It’s understanding how coaches are viewing things and knowing which things they need to know.”
DePase is currently attending an orientation through Saturday. He will remain in Arizona through the end of spring training, bouncing back and forth between the minor league and big league programs, he said.
“They sent me a laptop and gave me access to their database. I’ve been able to remotely access their database, so I’ve been reviewing all of our guys we’re getting in Triple A and their numbers from the past year, just to get a sense of who they are as pitchers and what made them successful and what’s potentially made them fail in the past,” DePase said. “My job is to communicate with coaches, not with players. I’m supposed to build relationships with players, that’s absolutely part of it, but I’m not necessarily developing players that way. It’s more like ‘Hey, I have a good idea. I’m going to go tell our pitching coach.’ And he’s going to evaluate my idea on its merits. If he likes it and we agree on something, we’ll do it.”
In recent years, DePase has offered some insight to Cecil College baseball coach Charlie O’Brien, who initially put him into contact with Belanger. DePase included O’Brien on a lengthy list of coaches and mentors who helped him to where he is today, along with Belanger, Szefc and fellow North East graduate Corey Haines.
“He’s a great kid. He’s my son’s best friend, so he’s been at my house since he was probably in second grade and is just another part of the family,” O’Brien said. “He was a good high school player. He wasn’t great, but he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He knew he wanted to get into it. He’s always had that knack to be able to put the math and the baseball together.
“He comes back and helps us out when he’s back home. He teaches me and my staff stuff. He’s going to be great … He started by showing us where to shoot our videos from. He knows where to hook up the cameras and how to shoot it and edit it and then how to send it. We were just storing it all on the computer. I’m old school, not very tech-savvy. He showed us how to make it into a file and be able to give it right to each player.”
O’Brien said he used to use YouTube to scout players. DePase showed him much for effective methods.
“We bought a $300 camera instead of the $3,000 camera. He was able to, on our low budget, give us exactly what we need to do. He’s done a lot of little stuff,” O’Brien said. “He’s very interested in that side and he’s a worker. He’s got the intelligence to do it, but he’s also got the baseball love to do it.”
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