Winning seems to change nearly everything.
Given the Diamondbacks success on the field and a mind-set reversal in the clubhouse, the organization’s approach to its players has also been altered.
In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the D-backs were 135-189, and lost more games in 2010 than the year before. That prompted the firing of field manager A. J. Hinch and John Byrnes, the general manager, and need for an immediate improvement.
Enter the duo of Kevin Towers to replace Byrnes and Kirk Gibson to take over for Hinch. Towers came in with the reputation of building winning teams from the back of the bullpen forward, and Gibson entered the dugout with an intense hatred of losing, and instilling a championship personality among his players.
With the changing of the guard in the front office and on the playing field came an alteration of culture. The effects of winning immediately became profound and in rapid ascend, the Diamondbacks climbed to the top of the National League West Division standings in August, and stayed there.
In conjunction with winning in the first full season for both Gibson and Towers, the mind set of player development changed. Now, the Diamondbacks are not in a hurry to rush players to the major league level, and can exhibit patience while players mature and develop.
To minor league pitching coach Dan Carlson, the change is noticeable.
Just completing his 11th season in the Diamondbacks organization, Carlson, pitching coach at AA Mobile, has developed players from ”the red flag” of immediate crisis and now of a measured approach to development. This autumn, Carlson stays close in the development of Arizona prospects as the pitching coach of the Salt River Rafter of the Arizona Fall League, and says the organization is now prepared to watch players closely.
“It was not long ago when we rushed guys up there,” Carlson said. “There were holes and the organization was looking for immediate success.”
Carlson, cited Justin Upton, ex-Diamondback Mark Reynolds and Stephen Drew as those who were essentially rushed the major leagues.
Upton, the number one pick overall in the 2005 draft, spent only his first pro year in professional baseball in the minors with South Bend (.263, 12 HRs, 66 RBIs). By the end of the next season, he was patrolling the gardens of Chase Field for good.
Drew’s ascend to the major leagues was similar.
As the Diamondbacks’ first pick (15th overall) in the 2004 draft, Drew commenced his career with Lancaster and Tennessee for the 2005 season. By the end of the following year, Drew was in the majors and hit .316 in 59 games during 2006, his first season at the major league level.
Now, the Diamondbacks appear to be set overall, and those who try to break into the 25 man roster at the start of the 2012 season will find the challenge formidable.
Personnel changes will likely be dictated by free agency movement. If the D-backs core remains, few openings could be expected.
Reserve infielder John McDonald, who came over from Toronto late in the season, could be gone, and Sean Burroughs was send back to AAA Reno after the playoffs. That’s two spots and a possible few jobs on the pitching staff.
If Carlson has any input, it’s based on longevity with the organization and his understanding of the changing nature of the franchise.
“Right now, they’re doing a good job of letting players develop,” Carlson added. “In the past, guys seemed to get in the big leagues in a hurry, but now, the organization is taking time and watching players carefully.”
Upton was named by The Sporting News to the National League All-Stars on Oct. 27. Upton is joined by the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun of Milwaukee as the NL outfielders.
Full All-Star Teams
C Alex Avila, Tigers
1B Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
2B Robinson Cano, Yankees
3B Adrian Beltre, Rangers
SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
OF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
OF Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
OF Curtis Granderson, Yankees
DH: David Ortiz, Red Sox
SP Justin Verlander, Tigers
RP Mariano Rivera, Yankees
C Brian McCann, Braves
1B Prince Fielder, Brewers
2B Brandon Phillips, Reds
3B Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
OF Matt Kemp, Dodgers
OF Ryan Braun, Brewers
OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
RP Craig Kimbrel, Braves