I was very fortunate last week in San Francisco to get a chance to talk with Fox Sports and Diamondbacks television broadcaster Daron Sutton. I emailed some of the same questions to KTAR radio broadcaster Greg Schulte and MLB.com beat writer Steve Gilbert. This is Part 2 of my review of the season from the eyes of these members of the press. Part 1 of my 2009 retrospective with Daron Sutton and Greg Schulte began in Spring Training. The Diamondbacks got off to a difficult start to the season and would never fully turn their season around. Brandon Webb's injury, Chris Young's season-long slump, and 120 8th-inning runs allowed were some of the many disappointments. Daron Sutton discussed the great communication gap between new manager A.J. Hinch and the players, and Steve Gilbert pointed out that many of the players were less thrilled with the replacement, which got in the way of their performance.
But the Diamondbacks’ 2009 season was not all for naught. 2009 saw the emergence of a lot of rookies, guys who were further down on the depth charts to start the year, yet have shown they are here to stay. "I remember Matt Williams approaching me in Spring Training," Daron Sutton retold, "saying, boy, this guy could be and should be some day a center fielder every day for the Diamondbacks. Matt turned out to be really prophetic. To be in the top two or three all year long in RBI when you get here in May, I think he’s the one guy that jumps out to me." Greg Schulte agrees. "[Parra’s] rookie numbers were impressive, among the best in the National League. He should receive Rookie of the Year votes. And Ryan Roberts made the club out of Spring Training and put together a good rookie year."
Schulte also praises the bullpen’s potential for next year. "Rookie relievers Juan Gutierrez and Esmerling Vasquez both had bright moments in their first seasons in the majors. Both were starters in the minors and made nice transitions as relievers. Rookie lefties Clay Zavada and Daniel Schlereth both had their moments. Schlereth showed a glimmer of what he can become with a particular September outing against the Rockies (two innings, 16 pitches, 14 strikes). There are some good young arms in the pen." Gilbert added that Zavada was a real pleasure to watch. “It was great to see the joy that Clay Zavada brought to the ballpark each and every day. He’s a guy that is grateful for every day he’s in the big leagues and he pitches with no fear.”
Some "veterans" had good seasons this year too, Schulte pointed out. "Catcher Miguel Montero excelled offensively when given a chance to play every day and provided offensive firepower as a middle-of-the-order guy. Justin Upton hit over .300 much of the season. Dan Haren was a 14-game winner, but would have won more with a little more run support, and Chad Qualls handled the closer role well." Gilbert echoed the praises of Miguel Montero. "How can you not like Miguel Montero? He is always smiling and to see him finally break through at the big league level was pretty cool."
Sutton said one of the more positive big-picture things for him this season was the power of Mark Reynolds. He chased Albert Pujols for the home run title through the dog days of summer, and he did it off the aces of the league. "From kicking Zach Greinke’s tail to Felix Hernandez, your 1-and-2 American League Cy Young candidates, he took them out of the yard." According to Hit Tracker Online, Reynolds also had some of the longest home runs of the year, and had the longest average distance of any player. Sutton also mentioned some specific games. "My favorite game was the 18-inning game in San Diego. I loved who they were about, I loved that a lot of the "bullpen scrubs" were given the opportunity and pitched 9 no-hit innings, I loved what that game was all about. I liked Dan Haren’s start heading into the All-Star Game when he was trying to determine if he was going to be the starter. He threw a complete game shutout, something that he rarely does. So those are two that really jump out at me as special victories."
As special as those victories were, they were few and far between. The Diamondbacks ended the 2009 campaign with 70 victories, last in the NL West and third-last in the National League as a whole. There is a lot of work to be done this off-season. The three needs that everyone mentioned are the starting rotation, the bullpen, and the offense. "If Brandon Webb is healthy, if they know enough, they have to pick up his option. That’s #1," says Sutton. "If they can get from May to the end of the season out of him, that’s #1." Gilbert agrees that the rotation is a priority. "They need to add another starter that can fill the No. 3 or 4 spot in the rotation. If you've got Buckner, Mulvey, Augenstein, Valdez, Petit, etc. competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation next spring, I think you’re in good shape. But if you’ve got those guys competing for two spots, then it gets a little dicey." The bullpen also needs a lot of work. Says Sutton, "They really need a veteran relief presence down there. I look and I see San Francisco, who hung in it longer than many thought, and a big part of it to me is Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt. Those guys down there – and it costs money, now I’m spending my team’s money – but those guys and the presence they provided, I think a guy or two like that is just so important for the bullpen to shore everything up. And then this club needs to figure out who their second baseman is. Is it Ryan Roberts? Are they going to go make a bold and dramatic trade? Maybe go get a JJ Hardy from Milwaukee? I’m not sitting here saying it shouldn’t be Ryan Roberts, but I don’t know that yet. If there’s a better option, then they need to find what that is."
Sutton, Schulte and Gilbert all point out the other major performance gaffe that needs to improve – defense. "There were way too many errors during 2009, especially in the outfield," said Schulte. "The Diamondbacks gave up way too many unearned runs." Diamondbacks pitchers officially allowed 66 unearned runs, but that doesn’t account for runs and base runners due to overall poor play. “Whether it’s an actual error, or throwing to the wrong base or a mental mistake, there were just too many of them and it really cost them this year,” said Gilbert. Sutton added, "I think just execution of everything is a big part of it. I need to see defensively, Justin more accountable, and Miguel Montero, I need more out of him defensively. Those are two guys that could really help you."
At the end of the season, yes, everybody is disappointed with the outcome of 2009. The Diamondbacks players have a lot they need to work on, and the front office has quite a few holes to fill and decisions to make. But many times this year, there were glimpses of their true capabilities and glimmers of what the future might hold for Diamondbacks fans. If this team can look in the mirror and play up to its potential, the sky’s the limit.
Many thanks for those who helped make this article possible. Thank you to Daron Sutton for sitting down for a second interview with the Snakepit. My MityMic worked out perfectly for recording our chat. It was a pleasure talking baseball with you, sir! Thank you to Greg Schulte and Steve Gilbert for answering my questions via email. Many thanks to my contact who arranged the sit-down with Daron. He very kindly went out of his job description to do so! And of course thanks to Jim for letting me seek these interviews on behalf of the Snakepit.