Roster questions, Ketel Marte, Madison Bumgarner, Merrill Kelly and more
The Diamondbacks have opened spring training, as pitchers and catchers reported yesterday. The following are a few of the items I found most interesting from the the ZOOM press conferences from yesterday and today. But much more was covered so try to check out the audio links contained in the article as you have time. (I suggest opening in a separate tab or window if you can)
He was asked and spoke directly about his struggles last year. He cited the stop and restart to spring training ramp up as a factor or variable that he felt definitely affected him. He said if he had that all to do over again he would have tried to keep on a throwing program during the break between March and July instead of shutting down and restarting. Hopefully that is indeed a key factor in his velocity loss. He was otherwise humble and accountable as always in his measured answers. Nick Piecoro had a fuller write up on this at AZ Central
Hat Tip to Smurf1000. I asked MB about his 4 Seam, Cutter, Curve arsenal and whether he would be looking to add a new pitch or wrinkle or if it was mostly about just improving command. It was interesting to hear him immediately mention he has a Changeup too, and he spoke about the Changeup throughout the entire answer to my question. So it’s clearly a point of emphasis for him. He acknowledged he didn’t throw it very much last year, sometimes just one or a few per game. He said it’s a feel pitch and it’s something he definitely wants to improve, and so far he feels good about the pitch in early spring.
Bumgarner Audio HERE
More Free Agent Signings ?
I asked Hazen this morning if he thought it was likely there would be more free agent signings or trades in the near future. He said it was indeed likely that they would make some kind of additional move to improve and the area of emphasis would be the pitching staff, and specifically starting pitching, but maybe more bullpen help too.
In yesterday’s ZOOM Call with Torey I asked him what was “Plan A” and the most desired outcome for centerfield. While he claimed they have not yet figured it out, and that “Plan A is as impressive as Plan C right now”, the first name he mentioned was Tim Locastro. He then quickly mentioned Daulton Varsho and of course Ketel Marte.
Mike Hazen was also asked this morning how the team intends to use Ketel Marte. Zach Buchanan asked the question framed around a potential signing or deal that Hazen couldn’t discuss yet as potentially impacting this. Hazen said “I can’t talk about anything else”… but after checking around it was pointed out to me that Asdrubal Cabrera signing has not yet been announced.
In lieu of that, the first name that came up from Hazen for CF was once against Locastro’s. He then mentioned Stuart Fairchild and Ketel as possibilities. He omitted Daulton Varsho’s name and when asked about that as a follow up said he just forget to mention him. But he also said that the emphasis would be on Varsho as a catcher, even though he’d get outfield reps.
As for Ketel, he spoke at length but the gist was it just doesn’t matter as he feels Ketel will excel wherever they put him and it’s a strength for him and the organization to have that flexibility. It sounds like they are leaning towards him playing multiple positions again, but he of course hedged his bets. As for a potential signing or trade that would impact this, stay tuned to this space.
More on Ketel:
I asked Torey a rather long winded question about his approach change in 2020 and how that was being addressed. In 2019 when pitchers stopped throwing the ball over the plate for him to drive he seemed to adopt a contact approach, and hit for high average for a month or so while the HR and XBH pace slowed. He took what they gave him. But when they did give him a pitch he was still able to turn the switch and drive the ball. In 2020 however it seemed he stopped driving the ball altogether and mechanically was just off. So my question was how are they addressing getting him back to driving the ball . His response pretty interesting:
“I think what it ultimately came down to was an On Base Percentage thing with Ketel and his walk percentages. It was well below what our expectations are of him and that has been outlined to him. He didn’t draw his first walk as a right handed hitter until the last game or 2nd to last game…………………He lost his approach to hitting strikes and taking balls. Mechanically I don’t think he needs to make a huge adjustment………I think he just needs to put the bat on his shoulder when he knows people aren’t going to attack him. ……if he’s patient he’s going to see his OBP increase and he’s going to start getting more pitches to hit”
Bullpen and Rotation:
Both Torey yesterday and Hazen today were asked how many open spots there are in the bullpen, they both indicated 3 or 4. It’s wide open beyond the obvious guys that are signed to major league contracts. The lefty righty composition could of course impact what they’ll do.
The fairly significant news here in that J.B. Bukauskas is being transitioned to a short reliever role. He stated that his electric stuff plays well in short bursts.
Most of the other young rotation candidates that could be transitioned from Starter to Reliever will still be stretched out as starters to begin with to “protect their depth”.
Hazen stated emphatically that Corbin Martin is going to be a starter and health wise is a “full go”.
Jon Duplantier is proceeding on his throwing program with no setbacks.
Hazen also said that Merrill Kelly is “full go” as well. No restrictions.
Torey spoke about Kelly too this morning in the audio linked above and echoed these sentiments. He is throwing the ball well, spinning breaking balls, driving fastballs , etc. He also praised Kelly’s work ethic and how hard he dedicated himself to getting back fully healthy so quickly. It all sounds good so far.
As for Kelly himself, he said he was approaching Spring Training as usual and just trying to prepare for the season rather than thinking about what happened.
I asked him what normal for him is how hard he throws his fastball or pushes his breaking pitches at this point in spring.
He said “the easy answer is I’m not really holding anything back right now. Obviously in a bullpen and leading up to games you don’t want to go too hard too fast and try to throw the ball as hard as you can. But I’m definitely not easing into things. I feel ready to go, I feel strong. The ball is coming out well, the body feels good.”
He also said he feels no ill effects and does not notice the difference of being minus one rib.
Hazen on Dodgers/Padres moves and divisional competition
Asked how the Dodgers and Padres moves impact the team’s “rebuilding” efforts, Hazen immediately responded with “We’re not rebuilding”. Followed by “Payroll is payroll”….. “I don’t believe payroll (limitations) strips away your ability to be one of the better teams in the league. It’s not a binary choice”. He went on to acknowledge there is less margin for error, but finished up with “We’ve got to run our own race”