Winter Meetings interview with Craig Counsell

Q. After picking up Shaw, what do you think about what David's done to get that balance you talked about going into the winter?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, I think certainly right now, when I look at just our position player group, I think we've created balance there and we've created depth and kind of protection and choices really on a daily basis. So I think that's what we were -- I think David was kind of after is to create that, and then you feel like you can get guys that are playing well and put guys in position to succeed. I think we've done that.

Q. It's been a while since I looked at the numbers, I have to look again, but they didn't like totally stand out that you struggled really bad against righties, but I think you said there were stretches where you felt like you were lacking a little bit -- you could have used more depth.
CRAIG COUNSELL: We were pretty good against left-handed starters last year, if you look that one up. I think we were over ten games above .500 against left-handed starters. That would lead us to -- yeah.

Q. The flipside of all your great acquisitions is that you traded away the back of your bullpen since last August. As a manager, you've had great closers since you took over, K-Rod, and then J.J. and Tyler, so are you worried right now about the back of the bullpen?
CRAIG COUNSELL: If there was a game today I'd be worried, yeah. (Laughter).

Q. There's not, I don't think.
CRAIG COUNSELL: There's not. We've got time. I'm sure there will be more guys down there when we start on Opening Day, and the names, you know, just look at what we went into -- what we planned on in Spring Training and what we left Spring Training with.

So you know, I don't think there's any question that we have to add guys down there. I don't think at this point it's a place that's unsettled. I think that's fair to say. But it's December 6.

Q. Of your incumbent arms, who do you like, that has the talent to be high level?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I think if you look at the guys that performed really well last year, it was -- I think you go back to Corey, Jhanny Mariñez, Carlos Torres and Jacob Barnes.

Some of the younger guys that stepped up at the end, like Tyler Cravy and Suter, probably missing somebody, but I think it tells you that those are the guys coming back. I think it will take a while for us to shake out where everybody fits, and that's fine. I think that a lot of that's part of bullpen flexibility; that we stay flexible with our decisions. The number one thing, I'm going to say it again, is getting outs. How they get outs, when they get outs, not as important as getting outs.

Q. Are you a believer -- and this is an over-simplification, but that anyone can do that; basically that sometimes more is made of the ninth inning and you can have success with a guy who maybe doesn't have a bunch of saves on his record?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I think -- I don't think having saves on your record is critical, certainly, but I do think you still need talented people back there. So I think that's a little oversimplification.

You need talented people back there.

Q. How about experience?
CRAIG COUNSELL: We didn't have experience back there last year. I mean, J.J., Tyler, there's no experience back there. They are talented, though.

Q. What allowed Tyler to come into his own the way he did last year?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Really it was him getting healthy again I think. He is -- if you look at Tyler's track record, he's been a successful pitcher. He had struggled with some health issues. We got him to the off-season following the 2015 season healthy and he was able to have a normal off-season, and then he was ready to go. He's been successful when healthy for sure.

Q. Do you see Shaw as perhaps a platoon third baseman?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I see him playing a lot of third base. We can't -- I'd love for all -- Thames or Shaw to be guys that you plug in there every single day. I think that's what everybody wants, but I think with new players, you take a little bit of a wait-and-see attitude. We need some guys to kind of play on both sides of the lefty and righty starters for sure. That's what you'd like for sure.

But with having -- Perez is going to be somebody that's going to be important, and I think now as part of the depth and the protection and getting matchups, he's going to be an important part of this on the corners for sure.

Q. Can you talk about the experience last year is going to help him moving forward at shortstop?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Kind of we'll see, but I do think having two months in the Big Leagues, like a lot of guys, experienced a little bit of failure, understanding adjustments he'll have to make. Just the comfort level and exhale to breathe and play the game to his abilities; I think he's in a better spot to do that coming into Spring Training.

Q. What do you think if Villar ends up playing a lot of second base instead of short and third? Do you think his skill set might play better there? He's so athletic.
CRAIG COUNSELL: Defensively, I think it's a good spot for him. Yeah, we think defensively it's going to be his best position, yeah.

Q. I know you played him there the last couple of weeks last year. I wonder if you saw enough of him to form a definite --
CRAIG COUNSELL: He played four games maybe, three games. He played very well. But with his skills, I think it's going to be his best defensive position.

Q. You have a ton of young shortstops from Latin America; what do you know about the new one you just got, Mauricio Dubon?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Really I don't know much. I know probably as much as you guys know. Reading the stat lines and what our reports say, but he's a young player who had a lot of success at AA at 21, 22 years old. That's always encouraging. He's athletic. Run, throw. Sounds like strength is still kind of coming for him.

And I think that's a really good profile of the young shortstop, just waiting to get stronger as he matures.

Q. Does that leave Dubon at second and third as he makes his way up?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I think these guys, you play shortstop and you keep playing shortstop, and then you can move -- it's really easy to move up shortstop. We use Perez as a shortstop all the way through the Minor Leagues, he comes up, and those players, the athletic players, the moving off shortstop becomes pretty easy for them.

Q. With Thornburg, as good as he was last year, at what point did it seem like it would make sense to turn him into multiple assets that could help you guys out going forward?
CRAIG COUNSELL: That's a good question for David, yeah.

Q. In your view of him, was it difficult --
CRAIG COUNSELL: He's a good player. So you don't like trading good players, but we feel like we got good players back. We filled the hole at third base and now we certainly have some holes in the bullpen. Got another very good prospect, two good prospects that we like.

It was kind of fill a hole -- we created a hole, filled a hole and got prospects. That's how we see it. He was on a really good run, there's no question. He pitched well. At the deadline when we traded Jeffress and Smith, it felt like a hole was created there, as well. The guys covered it really well. We pitched really well in the last two months in the bullpen.

It's a similar scenario, really, for me, as I see it going forward is we kind of created a hole and guys fill in around it. We've had success doing it. We've had success finding guys, and I think we'll continue to.

Q. With your ties to Arizona, what does it mean to get back each and every year for the Cactus League?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, it's always exciting because it's the start for sure. And then at the end, you want to get out of Arizona (laughs).

I love going back there. I have great memories there, and so the fans of the Diamondbacks who frequent a lot of Spring Training games certainly treat me well, so it's great going back there.

Q. I know you don't know until you break camp who your exact team is going to be, but what are your hopes for the defense being better?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, I think it's certainly something that you work to improve on. I think we have -- from my perspective, we have a little bit of some unknowns with Eric Thames, an unknown, but I think if we can get Villar and Arcia every day in the middle, I think we can be solid and steady in the middle. Obviously that's the most important part of it.

Center field is still a place where we feel like key on improved greatly during the season, but he certainly still has hurdles to clear.

Q. Tyler said yesterday that as his role became defined, he started to rise to that challenge; that you helped him understand what it would take. Was there anything about those late-inning situations that played to his strengths or made him a better pitcher in that role?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I think Tyler, everybody likes some degree of certainty with what they are doing. It makes it a little easier to do your job. And Tyler, he did have to adjust as the season went -- he started out pitching with the injuries. He started out in the seventh inning, and when Will came back, he had moved to the eighth.

So we pitched him all around, we pitched him in the sixth inning. He was really willing to do anything last year. I think that was a great hurdle that he got over. But we still used him in a very regimented way to allow him to recover and be successful every time out. He's got enough experience and he knows what to expect. He's not surprised by a lot, if you keep him in the loop with everything, and he went out and did his job.

Q. In terms of young guys, Brinson and Hader, two guys in Triple-A, what are your expectations this year if they might be up?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Those are two guys that we hope are kind of putting the finishing pieces on their player development stage of their career, and then we'll see where that takes them and kind of what our needs are at that point, too. So I don't have an exact expectation. I think they will help us in 2017 for sure.

Q. Is the room different this year? Is that room operating in a different way this year? David has a full year under his belt.
CRAIG COUNSELL: Like for everybody, I think, one time through, experience, for players, for everybody, you know what to expect a little more. But it's not dramatically different actually. It's similar. We're going through possibilities and a lot of hiring and same as always.

Q. You had said that your stance all along is that Ryan is your left fielder, I think that's what you told the fans at that town hall thing. Is that still your stance after what you've heard in the suite in the last 24 hours or whatever?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah. I hope he's the left fielder (laughter). I'm planning on him being the left fielder.

Q. Is everybody in agreement in the room on that?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, I mean, he's our left fielder. I don't see anything changing.

Q. With your extension, does that change anything in terms of the way you look at this job?
CRAIG COUNSELL: No, because you're looking -- well, I look forward to kind of what's next, I think, and what's next is Spring Training and planning Spring Training. That doesn't change. The extension to me, you feel like, I'm going to see it through. That's kind of the feeling that I get from it as much as anything.

Q. That's got to be a plus?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, that's a good feeling.

Q. A big focus going into the year was selectivity was swinging at pitches -- looking at his walk rate and home run rate it doesn't look like he necessarily did that. How did his season go for you?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I think we got off to a start where that was probably -- that happened I think. And then it regressed, quite frankly, to kind of what we had seen in the past. I think that's certainly his -- to unlock the key for the next step for him, is that pitch selectivity. And I think power, I think it's a great -- as a player, kind of puts like 2000 at-bats or plate appearances under their belt, a player like Scooter, when the knowledge level goes up, the power has a chance to go up, too, for a guy like him. Certainly those are the next steps for a guy like him.

Q. If you take this group of starting pitchers that you have right now to Spring Training and there's no changes, no lessening of the core, how will you approach forming your rotation since there's more guys than spots?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, every spring, every spring you are preparing more than five guys to start. So it's a normal spring. They all take their turns and we do that every spring.

Q. And then you see if they all stay healthy, then you have to make a decision, don't you.
CRAIG COUNSELL: I would love to have a decision with six healthy starters at the end of spring. That would be a shocking development. If we had those six guys and they all got through Spring Training -- that's what you want. Five starters will never, I think if you look at the depth charts of most teams, they will go in with six is probably the minimum that they will be thinking about.

Q. Will you do anything different with that because it's a longer camp with the WBC? Do you have to pace? You're there quite a while this next spring.
CRAIG COUNSELL: It's an extra five days, really. I haven't looked at how that's going to affect them exactly. But it certainly will require some tweaks to the schedule, yes.

Q. Do you know already who you're going to be missing for that? I saw Perez, Venezuela really wants Perez.
CRAIG COUNSELL: I haven't seen the Dominican Team. Maldonado I know for sure and possibly Jorge Lopez, Puerto Rico. I don't know about the Dominican Team, and I haven't heard anything about Ryan.

Q. And right now, none of your U.S. players?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q. Home runs were up this year in baseball, not just the power hitters, but all throughout lineups. Does that have any impact on how you manage?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, it does. I think the playoffs were a great example of like runs were created through home runs. They weren't created through, you know, walks and base hits and extended rallies. So I don't know if there's particular strategies that are affected by that, but it is something that certainly that you know.

At this point, offense is really being created by -- the home run is such a key component to creating offense. And I think in our park, it's critical to look at. So you're aware of it, but as far as like particular strategies that happen during the game, I'm not sure that there are.

Q. The Indians against Toronto and especially against the Cubs, went with an extreme number of curveballs because of scouting reports. Can you do that over the course of a season, attack a team in a series with not just like more of a certain pitch, but an extreme percentage?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, you can, if you have people to do it and people to execute it. So it was a great strategy because it was executed and they had pitchers with the ability to execute it. So you have to -- I think that's first. You find the weaknesses, do we have people that can expose weaknesses. That's what advance scouting is.

Q. With Susac, Maldy and Pina, is Maldy ahead of those other two, and the way you would do playing time, do you think, or do you think kind of a true grouping? How do you look at that catching situation?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I would really go into camp without any kind of firm expectations. I think I see Maldy is definitely -- he's part of the Big League group, there's no question about that. But I think as we go in the season, I probably won't go into the season with expectations. We'll just go into the season and see how it goes.

Q. Are you guys looking to strengthen catching? Are you guys looking at catching?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I feel good about our catching situation, I do. I think Maldy is an underrated player and I think both Manny Pina and Susac are Major League catchers.

Q. What have you heard about Jorge?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Just that he's really pitching well.

Q. In the last year, did we even talk about him? We barely talked about him.
CRAIG COUNSELL: He didn't have a season worth talking about (laughing). And I would put Brandon Woodruff in that group, too. You hope to put somebody like Taylor Jungmann back in that group, as well.

Q. This might be a David question, but has there been talk about what to do about pitching in Colorado Springs and what's the best plan?
CRAIG COUNSELL: No, we have not talked about that.

Q. It just didn't work for Jorge.
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, I think because it doesn't work for somebody, we can't say, oh can't -- nobody can go there, you can't say that. Because there's players that had good seasons there, too.

So that's where you're going if you're pitching in Triple-A. As much as anything, to me, that can still be a learning experience, because that will happen on the mound one night in a game where you don't have it and how do you -- where do you go from there. You have to adapt, and the good pitchers find a way to adapt to that.

It's really what perspective do you take from it, to me, when you go to a place like that. I'm not saying that it's going to be easy and there are going to be parts of it that are unfair for the guys on the mound, but we're all aware of it.

Q. Can you talk about how Junior factors in?
CRAIG COUNSELL: I think he's one of the five, we can say that. Look, he had a great season. He surprised all of us. I think he surprised -- he probably surprised himself a little bit. He's an important part of us next year for sure. If we can get a performance similar to that that sets up -- he was one of the really top, top starters in the League the way he pitched.

Q. It is nice to have some experienced starting pitching.
CRAIG COUNSELL: It also is really bringing the same starting group that we brought last year, really, to Spring Training. It really is the same group.

Q. Guerra was not in that group last spring. He was a bullpen guy.
CRAIG COUNSELL: But he was with us. To me it's a group that we talked about that we got off to a rough start, but we really finished strong and finished strong over the last two months very strong. It was a group that I think they were second or third in the ERA in the last two months in the National League -- first. So it was a place we feel like the way they finished, it's a chance to be a strength again.

Q. The one guy that did not trend that way was Jimmy. What did you guys make of that and where do you go with him since he was backing up so much with his command and stuff?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Inconsistency I think is what he felt like towards the end of the season. If you just look at starting pitchers and how they perform and just different examples of starting pitchers, I don't think Jimmy is far off. I don't think the fix is like dramatic. But it's clearly he has to take a step forward and look, throwing strikes and commanding the baseball is probably where it starts.

That's where a lot of the troubles come into for him. There's progress that he needs to make, and I think he's on the same page with that and he's aware of that. But I still think that it's close enough that it's something that you still get excited about what's there.

Q. Are you still committed to him as a starting pitcher?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yes.

Q. Because I know sometimes big strong guys like him, when they have consistency, they move to a relief role and they thrive there.
CRAIG COUNSELL: We see Jimmy as a starter, yeah.

Q. A lot of people say he might be a closer with that bulldog mentality and his stuff?
CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, starting pitching is hard to find. He's a starter in my opinion.

Q. Looks like frustration gets him a little bit at times.
CRAIG COUNSELL: Not throwing strikes, I think that would be frustration (laughter). That could be the baseball definition of frustration, right, for fans, for writers.