Last spring, Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers said his team would compete for the National West Division title. Nobody really believed him. The team was coming off a 97-loss season, had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, and had a rotation comprised of unproven youngsters and vets with checkered histories.
We know how that turned out.
This year on the day pitchers and catchers reported and officially opened the 2012 Spring Training season, manager Kirk Gibson set the bar even higher.
"What we're after this year is to win enough games to get to the playoffs and become World Champions," the reigning NL Manager of the Year told a packed press conference room on Sunday.
Needless to say, Gibson and his squad have a long road ahead of them that will be filled with all kinds of challenges both on the field and off. One thing on the top of the Skipper's mind is the change from scrappy underdog to expected division-winner.
"It's something you worry about too. I've been through it before as a player and really as a coach. Success can be very dangerous. We have to continue to do the same things that we did last year, plus more. What we did last year was good, but obviously, it wasn't good enough. We have to get better," he said.
It starts Monday with the first full day of workouts for the pitchers and catchers and builds through 24th when the rest of the team officially reports. The D-backs Cactus League Spring Training schedule begins on March 3rd with a split-squad day and runs through a total 34 games.
Last spring the D-backs finished with a lowly 12-25 record which turned out not to matter in the least. The team always wants to win games, but the goal for these exhibition games will be to work on all the various individual and team fundamentals that go in to a winning baseball team.
Holding runners on base was a big emphasis last March and the team got better picking off runners and limiting stolen bases.
This year, Gibson talked about wanting more from his pitchers at the plate and to get better as a team executing sacrifice bunts and mixing in the occasional slash play to keep the defense honest.
Gibson said the he was pleased with the team's performance in 2011 and felt their elimination from the playoffs came down to just a few plays. This year, the goal is to increase the overall margin for error and get better in all aspects of the game.
Other Notes From Gibson's Press Conference:
- Asked if the team feels like it has unfinished business from last season, Gibson said that many players have been in town working out for some time and that, "their actions certainly seem like they feel like they have unfinished business."
- Gibson feels the team is way ahead of where they were last year as far as cultural changes such as preparation and workout regime. He feels the new guys have picked up on that as well.
- 20 pitchers were in town last week throwing. Guys know they should be prepared and come in to camp in shape.
- "One of our goals is to get physically tougher and mentally tougher just like it was last year. We came a long way last year but we need to do better," Gibson said.
- Stephen Drew: Gibson doesn't know if he will be ready to start the season. He's done a lot but hasn't done it baseball-wise. They will work him out over the next few days and see how he looks and reacts to baseball activities. He's worked out hard and is probably better shape than last year at this time but nobody knows how it will play out for him yet.
- Gibson's answer about Kennedy winning 20 games again is indicative of the team approach to the game he preaches: "It's unfair to say Ian (Kennedy) has to win 20 games. If he wins 16 and (Dan) Hudson wins 20, who cares."
- Gibson doesn't feel it's fair to Kennedy to say he should win 20 games again, and, "Honestly, it's not the type of thinking that I would encourage by our team."
- As for the overall increase in talent on the roster making the team better: "It doesn't matter what I think or what you think, it's yet to be determined...We've put ourselves in a good position, how it all works out, we don't know. That's the excitement of playing a major league season."
- One of the things spring training is all about is to learn about young players and to teach them how to be "Diamondbacks".
- Guys like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs need to learn what it takes to be a Diamondback. "In our view, there's so much more to being a Diamondback in the major leagues and (being a) winning, championship player." That includes fielding their position, holding runners, understanding sequences and handling the bat.
- Last year Gibson counted on the starters for a lot of innings which saved the bullpen and made them more effective. To do that, the pitchers need to handle the bat.
- Bunting, slashing, hit and run with pitchers is a major focus. Gibby would like to have more options available. Pitchers came a long way last year and have a lot of pride in their hitting.
- Gibson wants to get back to throwing behind runners more. Montero lost confidence after 10 errors early in the season but it's not just about his throws; fielders have to be in the right place as well.
- Last year means nothing for this year. It gives you a starting point of confidence. The team had 48 come from behind wins which was special. The team can't count on that again.
- Every team and season is different.
- Justin Upton is doing a great job with his preparation and being a very good teammate and showing good leadership qualities.
- Jason Kubel is a better defender than people think. He's been here a few weeks already learning how "we do it". Gives tremendous depth in the outfield.
- Last year big focus in the spring was holding runners. "I do that for reasons beyond just checking the runner." Controlling tempo. It can make pitchers uncomfortable because it changes their timing and rhythm. They have to get used to it in spring training.
- Gibson loves when opponent's fans boo when the pitchers throw over to first a lot.
- Gibson hasn't talked to Parra yet about his role now that Kubel is here but he isn't worried, "He's got a great attitude. He's Gerardo Parra."
- "In the end, we will play and manage the team to win ball games," Gibson said. To me that meant that he won't play guys just to develop them and get them experience or because they have a big contract.