D-backs impressed with fireballing prospect Stites
Recovered from appendectomy, righty emerging as key component in Kennedy trade
It was July 31, just hours before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and Matt Stites was about to have his life turned upside down.
The right-hander was waiting to be discharged from a San Antonio hospital, a few days after having an appendectomy, when his cell phone rang.
"I was sitting there with Matt Wisler, one of my teammates who was picking me up from the hospital, and my phone rang and it was Josh Byrnes, the Padres' GM. And he said, 'Hey man, how are you feeling?'" Stites said. "I thought it was just a conversation to see how I was doing, because he's a nice guy and he would call to check up and see how I was."
Byrnes did want to see how Stites was doing, but there was another reason for the call.
"Then he started going, 'Well, we were involved in a trade,' and then he went on to tell me I had been traded to the Diamondbacks," Stites said. "It was kind of a whirlwind of events."
It was quite a week for the 23-year old, who just days before the trade woke up with pains in his stomach.
"I thought it was just a stomachache," Stites said. "Then I thought it was just like a pulled muscle, because I could stretch it a little and it would get a little better."
After the game that night, the trainer told Stites that if the pain got any worse overnight, he needed to go to the emergency room. Finally, at 4 a.m., Stites went to the hospital. By 1 p.m., he was having surgery. Then a few days later, Stites was traded from the organization that selected him in the 17th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
The D-backs received Stites and left-handed specialist Joe Thatcher in the deal while sending Ian Kennedy to San Diego. Thatcher was the better-known name in the package the D-backs received, but listening to Arizona general manager Kevin Towers that night, it appeared that Stites was the key component.
"Stites is somebody we're very, very excited about," Towers said. "[He is] somebody that we'll probably have in big league camp and someone we think in 2014 should be in a fixture in the back end of our bullpen."
Stites' mom flew to San Antonio to drive him home following the surgery and news of the trade, and then she spent some time filling him with home-cooked meals to help him regain the 12 or 15 pounds he lost due to the appendicitis.
The D-backs brought Stites to Phoenix in mid-August to have him get acquainted with some of their front-office people, and he returned again in early September so he could build up his core strength and get ready for the Arizona Fall League.
Stites threw in three instructional league games prior to the start of the Fall League, and as to be expected after two-plus-month layoff, he was not sharp. The rust carried over to Stites' first couple of Fall League appearances.
"I threw in three instructional games and they didn't go too great, and my first couple of times here weren't that great, either," Stites said. "But since then, I was talking to our pitching coach, and he said, 'You're kind of showing your stuff.' I was working on a two-seamer, and I was kind of dropping my arm and I was just exposing it. And all these hitters are great hitters, and they saw it immediately."
What it didn't take long for the D-backs to see was that they really have something in Stites, who can touch the upper 90s with his fastball. He plans to work hard during the offseason on a changeup to help him against left-handed hitters.
"He's got a good slider," Arizona farm director Mike Bell said. "He's another guy with low walks, high strikeouts. It seems like he challenges guys. The more comfortable he's gotten back on the mound against competition, the better he's been. His demeanor and mound presence point to a guy that should be able to pitch important innings in the big leagues."
And that's what the D-backs are hoping Stites can do, maybe as soon as next season. Towers said at the end of the regular season that he expects Stites to come into Spring Training and challenge for a bullpen job.
"That's really flattering, but I can't put too much stock in that and let it change my approach," Stites said. "I have to just keep working at it and the pieces will fall into place. They've got some veteran arms, they've got some young arms. David Hernandez, he's got good stuff, I've seen him throw on TV. Brad Ziegler, he got a chance to close and, man, he was lights out. J.J. Putz and Heath Bell, they've got a lot of time up there and they know what they're doing. I'm just excited to get there and compete."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.