I was particularly impressed with Ron Gardenhire’s arrival as bench coach. Torey Lovullo is not exactly raw and inexperienced: he’ll certainly have learned a lot as part of the Red Sox coaching staff. But Gardenhire brings more than two thousand games of managerial experience, and that’s a wealth of veteran knowledge on which Lovullo can lean in his rookie season as a manager himself. I’m quite surprised that the D-backs were able to talk Gardenhire back into the dugout, but it appears he and Lovullo are on the same page of baseball philosophy. Our manager said, “I kept a mental notebook of guys that would be candidates. He sat down with me and the answers that he was giving were completely aligned with what I was thinking. The concepts were right on.”
It’s perhaps interesting to note that the other three new arrivals all came from within the Diamondbacks organization. Third-base coach Tony Perezchica is perhaps the least known, not having played for Arizona, but has actually been with the team the longest, his tenure going all the way back to managing the Rookie-level Missoula Osprey in 2003. But he has been the team’s minor-league infield coordinator since 2006, which should prepare him for the role of third-base coach. For that isn’t just about windmilling players home, it also covers infield training. Hopefully, he’ll be able to address the throwing issues which plagued Jake Lamb last year, all too frequently.
Bit of a BabyBacks reunion with the other two, as Mike Fetters and Robbie Hammock were both part of the 2004 Diamondbacks - let’s hope that team’s performance is not an omen for 2017! Fetters moves from quality control to the bullpen, and I did read one anecdotal report querying his coaching approach [disclaimer: I have zero knowledge about pitching mechanics, so take it however you wish]. Hammock takes over the QC role, which according to the team means he will be “assisting with on-field preparations and scouting,” as well as helping to coach the catching staff. Given Hammock’s record, guess that means if we don’t get a perfect game in 2017, he’s fired...
There are returning members as well: I was very happy to see Dave McKay return at first-base, since the D-backs were a well-oiled base-running machine last season, for which McKay deserves much credit. [Fun fact: only one player (Chase Utley) who appeared in the majors last year, has a better career SB success-rate over 50+ attempts than Chris Owings’s 87%]. We can’t really complain too much about the return of hitting coach Dave Magadan either, since the problem for Arizona was not apparently the offense; the team came third in the National League for 2016 total bases. I do wonder a bit why the team retained Ariel Prieto as an interpreter, given the Mexican-born Perezchica could presumably have filled that role as necessary.
But the main question-mark is the return of Mike Butcher, and it’s a topic which was addressed by Lovullo yesterday: “Myself and the organization, we all felt very strongly about his ability to teach and his ability to connect to players. Last year was not a big concern to me. The idea that Mike Butcher was a great teacher and he had built relationships and established a rapport with these guys, that was very important." This suggests we should not expect to see too many changes to the pitching staff during the off-season - because if we did, then the “established rapport” would not be particularly relevant. But I would still have to wonder, because Butcher’s “ability to teach” didn’t seem to manifest itself in many positive results this year. Still, #InHazenWeTrust #AtLeastForNow.
We’re likely not completely finished, with the post of assistant hitting coach still needing to be filled. But otherwise, it appears that the off-field personnel for Opening Day 2017 have now been established. Now it’s time for Lovullo, GM Mike Hazen and the rest of the front-office to shift over to the on-field staff.