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.”

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