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Former Padres, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers dies at age 56

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Sad news, passed along by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale: former San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has died. He had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer in late 2016.

Towers was a college baseball star who was drafted as a pitcher by the Padres in 1982. After several years in their minor league system he retired due to various arm injuries, becoming a Padres scout in 1989. Towers was hired by the Pirates as a scout in 1991 and returned to San Diego to become the club’s Scouting Director in 1994. He took over for Randy Smith as the team’s General Manager in November of 1995.

Towers led the Padres front office for 14 years, experiencing highs and lows. Under his watch the Padres won four division titles and the 1998 National League pennant. They also finished last on several occasions. Many of the downs during his tenure were attributed to team ownership’s unwillingness to spend money, however, and Towers continued to be well-respected within the industry regardless of how the Padres fared.

Notable draft picks under Towers watch were Jake Peavy, Corey Luebke, Khalil Greene and Xavier Nady. He didn’t often have a lot of money to sign free agents, but he did snag a couple of big names at the end of their careers, including Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson, Mike Piazza and Greg Maddux.

Towers was better known as a wheeler-dealer, and made many notable trades. Among them: acquiring Wally Joyner from the Royals in 1995, acquiring slugger Greg Vaughn from the Brewers in 1996, acquiring Phil Nevin from the Angels in 1999, acquiring Brett Boone and Ryan Klesko from the Braves in 1999, trading Jason Bay to the Pirates and, perhaps most notably, trading Hideki Irabu — who refused to play for the Padres — to the New York Yankees in 1998.

Towers was finally let go by San Diego in 2009, after which he spent two years as an advisor in the Yankees front office. In 2011, he succeeded Jerry Dipoto as General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

His tenure in Arizona was likewise characterized by ups and downs. The ups: the team won 94 games and the National League West Division title in his first season in charge, just one season after finishing in last place with 97 losses. The downs: in 2013 Towers became embroiled in controversy after it was revealed that he demanded his pitchers throw at opposing batters, leading to the firing of pitching coach Charles Nagy, who protested Towers’ instructions. Towers weathered that storm, but he was eventually fired in September 5, 2014 by Chief Baseball Officer Tony LaRussa, who brought in Dave Stewart to replace Towers.

Towers was offered a job in the organization in another capacity but declined it, choosing instead to take a scouting position with the Cincinnati Reds, which he held until his cancer diagnosis.

Towers was 56 year-old. For an excellent, touching tribute to Towers, go check out this story by Tim Brown of Yahoo.

Major League Baseball to launch an elite league for high schoolers

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This morning Major League Baseball announced a new elite league for high school baseball players who are likely to be drafted. It’s called the Prospect Development Pipeline League. It’ll start next summer and it’ll invite 80 of the best current high school juniors to play in a league in Florida from June through early July, culminating in an All-Star Game during MLB’s All-Star week.

The idea behind the league: to combat the current system in which a couple of pay-to-play, for-profit showcase leagues dominate the pre-draft season. Major League Baseball, schools and a lot of players’ parents have criticized this system because it favors rich kids who can afford to play in them. Major League Baseball is also likely quite keen on having greater control over the training, health and physical monitoring of prospects.

As Jeff Passan notes in his report about this, there will be a component of the program which involves live data-tracking of players during games and drills. Major League Baseball has become increasingly interested in such things but is limited in how much it can do in this regard due to labor agreements. There is no such impediment with high schoolers. Your mileage will vary when it comes to how you feel about that, I presume.