"It's a difficult time for those guys, some are going to be real excited, some are going to be real disappointed when it rolls around."
'It', of course, is September 1st, the day Major League Baseball expands its rosters from 25 to 40. For guys on the cusp of the bigs, top prospects who might have been blocked or young pitchers being groomed for stardom, the next month might be the beginning of a long and prosperous Major League career.
"The closer it gets the more it preoccupies guys' minds," Hale said Tuesday. "You can see the effects of a long season already, we've only had eight days off all year, and this is just one more thing that can distract guys from what they are doing out on the field."
For Hale the key is just to keep communicating with them, idle minds and all.
"You just try to keep them busy and talk to them. Everything during a season counts, and when these guys start getting distracted you have to keep reminding them that the last thing they want to do is tail off here at the end."
Hale knows that staying focused can be hard, both for those having great years and for those who've had a tough go in '05, but September can change all that.
"You're going to see some guys come up who've been great all season, and you're going to see some guys who aren't having great years, but that management wants to take a look at. These guys know that, and for some of the guys who maybe haven't had the best season, I try to remind them."
As if every minor leaguer didn't already have September 1st circled on the calendar, the increased presence of scouts and front office personnel make it even more difficult to block out the date.
"You've got a lot of people from the front office down here, a lot of Major League scouts, Bob Miller will be down here again, Mike Rizzo's been here, there is a lot of input, a lot of eyes watching."
Among those giving input will be Hale himself.
"The front office will ask me what I think, they'll ask my opinion, but there are a lot of different factors that go into who gets the call, it's not always about who the best players are."
Among those myriad factors are who is hot at the Major League level now, and more importantly, who is not. And multiply the complications ten-fold when you throw in the fact that the Diamondbacks are still in the hunt for the NL West title and a playoff spot. That means first and foremost on the Diamondbacks wish list will be bullpen help, as evidenced by the fact that rookie Jason Bulger has already gotten the call.
"Bulger's been steady as anybody down here," Hale says.
The answers are even harder to find when you consider the Diamondbacks have almost an entire Major League bullpen in Tucson already. Matt Herges, Kerry Ligtenberg, Javier Lopez, and Randy Choate have a combined 19 years of Major League experience already, with Herges, Ligtenberg, and Choate already playoff race tested.
Throw in recently demoted relievers Mike Koplove and Brian Bruney, and that's a lot of arms the Diamondbacks have already seen in the bigs. And we haven't even mentioned Casey Daigle, who's made the transition from starter to reliever this season at Double-A Tennessee and shown excellent results.
Another wild card in the bullpen call-ups could be Oscar Villarreal, who's been rehabbing in Tucson, and should be in the plans if he's healthy. Hale thinks that could happen, but again there are questions.
"Oscar's getting there, the other day he pitched two innings, and we tried to get him a third, but part of the problem with him is that we're not really sure what they are going to be looking for out of him. We're not sure if they want him as a long man, a set up guy, we're just not sure what role they want him in. He's close though."
As for Bruney, Hale looks at this as an opportunity for the young pitcher to make big strides.
"Our job is to get him back to where he can pitch at that level. For a while there he was the closer, and he lost that job, and then he continued to struggle, but this is sort of our job, especially this year. Reclamation projects. That's something that [Sidewinders pitching coach] Mike Parrott does a great job with, getting these guys back to basics. With a guy like Bruney, it all starts with locating his fastball. Once he starts doing that again, the other stuff will come around. He's a young kid, just getting started in his career, he'll be back."
Of course, the Diamondbacks won't fill all 15 of those roster spots with relievers, and the Sidewinders have a strong group of position player candidates as well.
The most glaring need for the Diamondbacks might be center field, but even that is up in the air. While a center fielder would certainly be in the cards, putting a young player out there would have a domino effect on the rest of the lineup. If Shawn Green moves back to right field, then does Chad Tracy move back to first? If Tracy moves back to first, what do you do with Tony Clark, arguably the best hitter the Diamondbacks have had all season?
The Sidewinders feature three players who could help the Diamondbacks in the outfield, all of whom are having solid years, and all of whom can play each of the three outfield spots.
Andy Green has had an incredible run this year in Tucson. The super versatile Green seems a shoo-in for a call, because in addition to hitting better than .340 for most of the season, he can play all three outfield spots, as well as all four infield spots. He also carries the added advantage of previous Major League experience, something the playoff chasing Diamondbacks will be putting more emphasis on.
"In September you can never have too many guys like Green," Hale says, "Guys like he and Alex Cintron just give Bob [Melvin] more flexibility. I think he'll have a shot at the 25 man roster next year, but it might be a situation where either he or Alex has to get moved for them both to get an opportunity. That was sort of what we were thinking might happen when Matt Kata got traded, that Andy would fill that spot, but Alex has done a great job for them. This September should be an opportunity for him to show everybody what he can do."
Josh Kroeger has seen Major League time as well, and though his numbers haven't been as spectacular as Green's this year, he brings more pure power to the table, a trait always in demand in hitter friendly Bank One Ballpark. Like Green he can play all three outfield spots, and he's logged more time in center than Green.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the Sidewinders' potential crop of September finds would be Carlos Quentin. Ranked as the #1 prospect in the organization prior to the 2005 season, Quentin has hit over .300 for most of the season, with 21 homers and infinite patience at the plate. A right fielder with a cannon arm for his entire pro career, Quentin has started playing center field consistently for the past month and a half, and according to Hale, the results have been surprisingly good.
"Honestly, he's been much better than I thought he'd be. He's done a great job out there. The arm's fine, we knew it would be, but he's been getting great breaks on the ball as well. Still, he's only been out there about a month now, and to put him out there in the middle of a pennant race, I'm not sure."
He may or may not get a call, some scouts have proclaimed him Major League ready for more than a year now, and the Diamondbacks are anxious to see what the future of their outfield looks like. But the question remains how much he'll be asked to help out down the stretch, if at all.
Of course the most intriguing player in the "will he or won't he" debate isn't even at Tucson. Double-A shortstop Stephen Drew destroyed the Hi-A California League with the Lancaster JetHawks, and when he was moved to Tennessee many felt it was a sign that the Diamondbacks, who have been satisfied, but by no means thrilled, with shortstop Royce Clayton, would give Drew a shot in September. But since getting to Tennessee Drew has missed two weeks with a quad injury, and struggled at the plate against Southern League pitching. Clayton's contract runs out at the end of the season, and few think he'll be resigned, which means Drew will have a shot at the 25 man roster, and potentially the starting job, next year. The question now is will a preview of Major League pitching do more to help, or hurt, Drew now.