September 2010

Webb’s thoughts on Instructional League outing

SAN FRANCISCO — As he walked into the dugout at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, his inning of Instructional League work completed, Brandon Webb turned to former big leaguers and current D-backs Minor League instructors Alan Zinter and Mike Bell.

“I said to them, ‘That’s the most fun I’ve had in two years,'” Webb told MLB.com by phone as he headed back up Interstate 10 to Phoenix.

It was the first time Webb had faced hitters in a game since Opening Day 2009 when he experienced shoulder discomfort that wound up leading to shoulder surgery in August and endless long toss and bullpen sessions.

Webb threw 20 pitches in working one scoreless inning, facing four batters and recording two groundouts and a fly out to go with a triple.

“I had some nerves going in,” he said. “But it felt real good. I was throwing strikes, which was really good. Changeup was good. My curveball was surprisingly good. I’ve been throwing most of them in the dirt during the simulated games, just not getting good extension on them, but it was good today.”

Webb said it did not take him any longer than usual to get ready for the outing — 30-35 pitches in the bullpen to warm up. His velocity he said was probably in the low 80s, but he expects that to improve in subsequent outings.

“I was just trying to get my feet wet today,” Webb said. “You know I had control problems at times during the [simulated] games and so today I was guiding the ball a little bit. I just didn’t want to go out there and walk a bunch of guys or hit guys. I think I’ll be able to let it go more next time. I’m just happy to feel so good at this point.”

If all goes according to plan, Webb will throw again Saturday in Tucson and then one more time Oct. 7 in Phoenix.

Numerous scouts attended the outing to get a look at Webb, who will be a free agent at season’s end.

Towers talks Dipoto and 2011

Had a chance to catch up with new D-backs GM Kevin Towers before tonight’s game and here’s is some of what he had to say:

– Towers is optimistic that he will be able to keep former interim GM Jerry Dipoto in the organization. As I reported Monday, Dipoto will join the team in Los Angeles this weekend to have more discussions with Towers to make sure their philosophies are in sync going forward.

“I had two meetings with him,” Towers said. “I think it looks good. He can only answer that. I’ve let it be known to him that I would love to have him here. I think he would be a huge asset to the organization. I think we still need to work through some philosophical things because I would envision him as kind of being my No. 2 baseball guy. We just have to share similar thoughts and beliefs on scouting and player development because I certainly don’t expect him to implement something into our system that he doesn’t believe in or have total buy in.”

Towers says the two of them have similar backgrounds, love to talk baseball, both have a scouting backgrounds and both have small or little egos.

Dipoto sounds positive on the relationship as well so it looks like a match unless something comes up this weekend.

We should know something by early next week, because Towers wants to hit the ground running as soon as the season ends.

– Towers would like to add a veteran starter, but will look at veteran players for the bench and of course the bullpen first.

“The people we’ll target early will be bench players and bullpen,” he said. “We’ll probably have to wait on the starter unless it comes via a trade. The starting pitching market is probably I think fairly weak this year. After that it’s fairly thin in my eyes. To me it’s Minor League free agents, trades. You’re more apt to find that guy via trade versus getting Major League free agents.”

Getting veterans for the bench is something Towers feels is important rather than going with younger players in that role.

“It’s hard for young guys to be effective pinch-hitters coming off the bench,” he said. “If you don’t have that experience or those guys that are threats it makes it pretty easy on the opposing manager because he has no fear of anyone that is coming off the bench.”

– Towers declined to reveal his specific payroll figure for next year when I asked, but he said he was pleasantly surprised by what he heard from managing general partner Ken Kendrick and praised Kendrick for his intense desire to win and willingness to spend.

“I never want to let my competitors what I’ve got to work with,” he said. “Certainly more than I had in San Diego, let’s put it that way. We’ve got a few holes and we have to allocate the dollars in the right areas. I don’t think we’re like one guy away from being the team to beat in the West.”

– Towers would like to add some offense, likely in left field where the D-backs have gotten little production.
But again, it’s bullpen, bullpen, bullpen.

“To me [getting a left fielder] is not as big a priority as having four or five different weapons in the bullpen where your manager has confidence on any given night he’s got five or six guys that can get middle of the order [hitters], pitch in the seventh or eighth inning with the lead or tied and be effective on a consistent basis,” Towers said.

One thing that is very encouraging is that Towers seems to be more realistic than the previous regime about Juan Gutierrez. Yes, he’s having a good second half and a really good September, but let’s remember that he also had a good September last year and the club counted on him to be a key member of the bullpen.

We know how that turned out early this season.

“Gutierrez has pitched very well, but he’s young,” Towers said. “It would be nice to have another experienced guy late in the game to go along with him. Him and [Sam] Demel are kind of guys that I could envision being effective guys. I don’t know as much about [Esmerling] Vasquez or [Carlos] Rosa.”

– Towers seems impressed with the culture in the D-backs front office and credited team president and CEO Derrick Hall for that.

“I think Derrick has done a great job of creating a great atmosphere in the front office,” Towers said. “Just communication, high energy, openness. Doors aren’t shut. Doors are open, people are moving about, which to me is a great, great sign.”

Dipoto to travel with D-backs

Jerry Dipoto, who served as interim general manager for the D-backs before the hiring of Kevin Towers last week, will join the team in Los Angeles next weekend for the final series of the year.

Towers has said that he would like Dipoto to stay with the club in a significant capacity.

For his part, Dipoto has declined comment. The trip to Los Angeles is a way for he and Towers to get to know each other better and to continue to discuss their baseball philosophies.

Webb won’t pitch for D-backs this year

PHOENIX — Brandon Webb will not pitch in any of the D-backs final six games this season, the team announced Monday.

Instead, the former Cy Young Award winner, who is trying to come back from shoulder surgery performed last August, will pitch Wednesday in an Instructional League game in Tucson, Ariz.

“I’m excited to go down there and get into game situations,” Webb told MLB.com. “Obviously I wanted to pitch in the big leagues, but this is the second-best thing.”

Webb said depending on how Wednesday’s game goes, he could throw Saturday in Tucson and then possibly Oct. 7 against the Giants at their Spring Training complex in Scottsdale.

The D-backs said that their Instructional League games would be open to the public and they would announce game times soon.

Webb met with new GM Kevin Towers, interim manager Kirk Gibson and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. on Monday afternoon in hopes of convincing them to let him throw an inning or two in relief this week. Head athletic trainer Ken Crenshaw and team executive Jerry Dipoto were also in the room.

One of the big advantages for Webb in throwing in the Instructional League is that it is a controlled environment where innings can be started and ended at any time. They could put runners on base if they want him to work on pitching from the stretch, or take them off if they want him throwing from the windup.

“Everybody pretty much agreed that this is a good opportunity for me and a better situation than doing it in the big leagues,” Webb said. “I’ll have to get back into covering first base, fielding bunts, pickoffs, stuff like that that I haven’t had to do in the simulated games.”

The decision not to pitch Webb means it is possible that he has thrown his last pitch in an Arizona uniform. The 31-year-old will be a free agent following the end of the season.

Drafted by the D-backs in the eighth round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Webb made his big league debut in 2003 and finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting that year.

“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” Webb said of his Arizona days being over. “I’ve always said that I want to come back here. I’m hoping I throw well during the Instructional League to show Towers and Gibby that I’m healthy and that I’m going to be alright.”

Towers, who took over for Dipoto last week, said the decision was made with Webb’s best interests in mind and did not rule out him returning to the D-backs in 2011.

“For me it was a matter of relying on staff that has worked with him during the rehab process,” Towers said. “It’s a more controlled environment for him. By no means is this kicking Brandon Webb out the door with the D-backs. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to see him face hitters once or twice so that we can make a decision about next year.”

Webb was 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 2006 and won the NL Cy Young Award. He finished second in the voting in each of the following two seasons when he won 18 and 22 games respectively.

In each year from 2004 through 2008, Webb made at least 33 starts and threw at least 208 innings. He was the D-backs Opening Day starter in 2009 and was roughed up by the Rockies allowing six runs over four innings. That may turn out to be his final appearance for the D-backs.

Following that game, Webb complained of shoulder stiffness and after visits to a variety of specialists and numerous rehab attempts, he had shoulder surgery on Aug. 3.

The D-backs were optimistic enough about his recovery that after watching him play catch in October they elected to exercise his $8.5 million contract option for 2010.

Webb threw off a mound for the first time just before Spring Training and it appeared initially like he might be able to start the season on time. However he was not able to get the arm speed he needed and this summer has been filled with long toss, bullpen sessions and simulated games.

Finally, though, he will be able to get back on a mound.

“I’m sure I’ll be a little nervous,” Webb said. “Guys will be up there swinging. It’s not going to be like a simulated game. It’s going to be fun, though, I can’t wait.”

More on Kevin Towers

Even when it comes to online stories, there is only so much room to fit things in. So below is a look at some of what the key players had to say today at the press conference to announce the hiring of Kevin Towers. Big tip of the cap to Andrew Pentis for his help today.

On his philosophy on building a team: “I’m a big believer in pitching. I think pitching is what wins, not to say that I take offense lightly, but pitching to me is paramount, especially the bullpen, especially in the National League, especially in the NL West. This is probably one of the better hitter’s ballparks in the NL West, probably one of the top five offensive parks in baseball. To me, pitching is the name of the game. You look at clubs that go deep into postseason — especially these days — I think the ones that are pitching dominant are usually the ones that end the year on top.”

On the attributes he looks for in a pitcher: “Size, strength, aggressiveness, strikeout ability, pound the zone, not afraid to pitch inside, good secondary pitch.”

Towers went to the postseason four times in his 14 years with the Padres and he did it with payroll limitations. That’s one of the things that impressed D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall.

 “When you’re a small-market or middle-market club, you’re going to have to be a little more creative,” Towers said. “You have to start digging down deep in A-ball and Double-A and finding those players that have the potential to be those type of players maybe before they get on the other teams’ radar screen. That’s what happens in [Luke] Gregerson’s case, in [Heath] Bell’s case, [Edward] Mujica’s case, [Mike] Adam’s case. To me, it really comes down to having good scouts. GMs are always going to look good or bad based on the product that’s out there, but to me it’s really the scouts out there that are finding those players.”

On his reputation for putting together good bullpens: “Putting a together a strong bullpen — to me, it’s several weapons, not just the closer. To me, you should have five to six guys that can pitch in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings against a middle-of-the-order hitter and be able to get a strikeout.”

With the D-backs approaching the Major League record for strikeouts in a season, Towers was asked for his thoughts on the team’s tendency to whiff: “With power, usually comes strikeouts. They usually go hand in hand. Personally, I like contact hitters. I like guys that have good pitch recognition. Strikeouts are a part of the game, but if you have four or five of six guys in your lineup [who are prone to whiff], it’s hard to sustain any sort of rally. I’m a big believer in pitch recognition, grinding out an at-bat, seeing a lot of pitches. I need a little bit more time to evaluate. That’s why I’m looking forward to this road trip and talking to the coaching staff, but there are some nice hitters on this ballclub right now. The strikeouts are somewhat alarming. You certainly need to cut that back and would like to see certainly breaking a record for more walks than strikeouts.”

There has been some criticism in the past about the Drafts that Towers had in San Diego. I talked to Hall about it and he said there were underlying factors in a lot of those cases not the least of which were financial restrictions.

“We learned a lot more about his decisions and why they were made,” Hall said. “We’re not concerned at all about scouting and player development. In fact I’m excited about what he brings because it’s an area we need to improve on.”

Towers then shared some of his philosophies on Draft picks: “The most important thing about the draft is just the process to make sure that you get several looks at players. I know this year we have two very, very high picks, which is a good thing. From everything I hear from scouts and amateur scouts, there’s a lot of depth in this year’s draft. I’ve always been a big believer in [selecting] position players early. Hitters usually don’t slide. Power comes late, but guys that have that knack of putting the sweet spot on the ball — you don’t get those guys deep in the draft. If you want the good hitter, the proven hitter, you’re going to have to take him early.  You get a little bit luckier with pitchers deep in the draft. Sometimes their velocity doesn’t come for a couple a years. Less chance of injury with a position player. I’m not opposed to high school versus college. I like hitters early. To me, I’ve always relied on my scouting director.”

On the biggest difference between Arizona and San Diego: “The way the ballpark plays. This is much more of a hitter-friendly ballpark. The only way it would change is we weren’t afraid to take chances on flyball pitchers [like Chris Young]. That probably wouldn’t play very well here whereas in PETCO [Park] that wouldn’t bother us that much. The type of pitcher that you’re going to go after is probably groundball pitcher, sinkerball pitcher, strikeout ability, command. In a lot of ways similar, but more groundball oriented vs. flyball oriented.”

Towers knows that a key for next year’s club is going to be finding a closer: “The guy at the end of the game is vital. There might be guys out there that are setup type guys or maybe even starters in the Minor Leagues. Heath Bell was a starter who became a closer. The tough thing is it’s tough to take one of those guys and pop them into that role right away. It’s nice to be able to kind of graduate them from the seventh inning to the eighth inning to the ninth inning. That’s not to say that couldn’t be done.”

During Spring Training in 2009, the San Diego bullpen was so bad that Towers said he told his scouts to look for nothing but pitchers the last couple of weeks and he wound up with key pieces like Luke Gregerson and Edward Mujica: “I was telling people that our bullpen in San Diego was basically put together in three weeks. In Spring Training we saw that it was so bad we started making changes. We said we’re not looking at hitters. I don’t care if Lou Gehrig is available for nothing. If we’ve got to get on the back fields, if we got to watch Minor League games, pitchers who are out of options, pitchers who have out clauses, that’s all we talked about. It can be done. It’s not easy, we’re going to have to take some chances on guys that aren’t proven and hope they can handle the closer type role. A lot of it’s the right instruction, the right game plan.”

– Padres closer Trevor Hoffman certainly enhanced Towers reputation:
“No. 51 made K.T. look like he was a pretty good bullpen builder, I’m not going to lie. I’ve been blessed. We had time with Hoffy there to be able to graduate [Scott] Linebrink, [Mike] Adams, but it’s hard to graduate guys if you don’t have a constant at the end.”

On the state of the NL West: “I would say it’s probably not as big of a climb as it was maybe several years ago when you had  two or three organizations that had over a $100 million payroll. The West to me is the Wild Wild West. It’s been a pretty volatile division, which is good. It almost gives you hope like the NFL where you can be last and, because of the salary cap, you can be first the next year. With the AL East that’s not going to happen.”

Towers was asked if there will be any added incentive in facing the Padres, the team that dismissed him last year: “Playing the Padres, I don’t know how it’s going to feel. I’m sure there will be some awkwardness to it. I’ll be just as motivated to beat everybody else in the division as I am San Diego.”

Towers has made many deals in his career, but the one he says was his most memorable might surprise you. No, it wasn’t Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

“The best one I ever made, the most important one probably was Sean Mulligan for two treadmills and $75,000 for weights,”
he said.

Apparently, Towers did not have money in the budget for the exercise equipment so he dealt Mulligan to the Indians in January 1997 for the treadmills and the money that he used to purchase free weights.

When he was GM in San Diego, Towers passed on selecting Florida State’s Stephen Drew with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 Draft and instead took shortstop Matt Bush, who proved to be a bust. Towers said the decision was dictated by financial limitations placed by ownership not on scouting.

“I should have taken Drew in 2004,” he said. “We targeted him as the right guy, just financial reasons. Hard to find middle of the infield guys that are solid, dependable, out there every day, accurate arm out there every day.”

Drew chuckled when remembering being passed over.

“I remember meeting with him at Florida State,” he said. “We just had a conversation and what he said he liked me and would like to have me. I respect him, there was no hard feelings when he didn’t pick me. It’s kind of ironic now that he’s going to be our GM.”

D-backs closing in with Towers

PHOENIX – The D-backs are closing in on an agreement that would make Kevin Towers the club’s permanent GM according to an industry source and an announcement could be made as soon as Wednesday.

If the agreement is finalized Towers would take over for interim GM Jerry Dipoto, who replaced the dismissed Josh Byrnes on July 1. Dipoto, who drew a lot of praise throughout the industry and from D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall for the way he performed in the job, was the other finalist for the position.

Hall has declined comment throughout the process, but given his close working relationship with Dipoto, it surely must have been an agonizing decision for him.

Dodgers executives Logan White and De Jon Watson and Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, were in the initial candidate pool and had their interviews last week along with Towers and Dipoto.

It was not the first time Towers interviewed for the Arizona GM job. In the Fall of 2004, Towers was a candidate to replace Joe Garagiola Jr., but the team eventually went with Byrnes and Towers remained with the Padres.

Towers was dismissed as general manager of the Padres during the final week of the regular season in 2009. At the time of his dismissal, Towers was finishing his 14th season as general manager of the Padres and was the longest-tenured GM in the Major Leagues.

Well-respected for his scouting and talent evaluation skills, Towers was quickly snapped up by the Yankees where he spent the 2010 season as a special assistant with the Yankees working for good friend and New York general manager, Brian Cashman.

The Yankees are reportedly paying Towers $50,000. He’s still collecting over $1 million in salary from the Padres where he made close to $2 million per season towards the end of his tenure.

Towers, who has served as a scout, scouting director and national cross-checker during his time in baseball, is often referred to as the “Gunslinger” a label he wears proudly.

“If you were to define a gunslinger, you think back to throwback, old-school guy,” Towers said last October. “That’s the way I was taught when I played [from] coaches, rival executives, scouts, players, teammates. That’s the way I was taught to do it.

Towers would become the third permanent GM in franchise history. Garagiola served from 1995 when the franchise was first awarded to Arizona until Aug. 1, 2005 when he resigned to accept a position with Major League Baseball.

Bob Gebhard filled in on an interim basis and Byrnes was eventually hired over a field that included Towers in October.

Dipoto’s performance on the job, plus what was said to be a strong interview that included a detailed plan for the organization’s future, had him running neck-and-neck with Towers.

In a series of moves prior to the Trade Deadline, Dipoto was able to reduce the team’s future salary obligations by dealing Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson and Chris Snyder, while also restocking the farm system that had grown barren.

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