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Is this the face of a #2 starter?

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There's more power in the lineup and more stability on the pitching staff and as the Diamondbacks report to camp, they expect both areas to make them forget about last season's disastrous 51-111 finish in a hurry.
   "That team isn't here anymore," left fielder Luis Gonzalez said. "This is a completely new team."
   Gonzalez is the only projected starter in the field that returns from last year's Opening Day lineup, but the Diamondbacks have retooled and reloaded in drastic fashion, starting with their offense and starting rotation.
   The Diamondbacks are without Richie Sexson (free agency) and Randy Johnson (dealt to the Yankees), but they've added power in new third baseman Troy Glaus and right fielder Shawn Green and brought in stability to the pitching staff with the likes of Javier Vazquez, Russ Ortiz and Shawn Estes.
   They've shored up their defensive concerns in the field with the additions of shortstop Royce Clayton, second baseman Craig Counsell and center fielder Jose Cruz Jr. Second-year man Chad Tracy, meanwhile, moves from third to first and, according to manager Bob Melvin, could put up big numbers hitting behind the big bats in the heart of the order.
   The Diamondbacks do have some concerns that might need to be addressed, however. Ortiz, No. 2 starter Brandon Webb and Estes combined for 336 walks last season, and that number has to decrease in a big way. The bullpen is decent, but it's young and isn't awe-inspiring.
   Arizona's youthful roster in 2004, the result of a dizzying series of injuries, contributed to much of the team's woes, but most of the kids have been replaced with veterans. But there are at least three key areas being predominantly filled by young players, and Arizona can't afford much growing pains at any of the positions:
   Right-handed Greg Aquino notched 16 saves as a rookie last season, and the one-time shortstop is manager Bob Melvin's full-time closer, assuming he can carry the load.
   Tracy was plagued by error problems last season as a rookie at third, and he hasn't played first base on a consistent basis since early in his collegiate career.
   Then, there are two other neophytes -- Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder --competing for the starting catching duties. Both are competent but unpolished, especially with handling a mostly veteran starting rotation.
   "It shouldn't take us long for everybody to get on the same page and build some chemistry together," says Ortiz. "Some teams, it takes longer. But I feel pretty good that we'll get to know each other well and establish some good consistency, even with so many new faces."
   WHERE, WHEN: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson, Ariz. First exhibition game is March 3 against Chicago White Sox.
   WHO'S IN CHARGE: Manager Bob Melvin, first year, 156-168 during last two seasons as Seattle Mariners manager, returns to Arizona, where he was bench coach from 2001-02; pitching coach Mark Davis, hitting coach Mike Aldrete, bench coach Jay Bell, third-base coach Carlos Tosca, first base coach Brett Butler, bullpen coach Chuck Kniffin.
   TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: 1B Chad Tracy finished ranked in the Top 10 in 10 different offensive categories among all rookies last season and should benefit greatly if he his sixth in the lineup behind sluggers Luis Gonzalez, Troy Glaus and Shawn Green. Tracy is a solid contact hitter who bats for average and sprays the ball to all three fields, and manager Bob Melvin thinks Tracy could shine as bright as anyone in the D-backs' revamped lineup. The signing of backup 1B Tony Clark should take some pressure off Tracy and also push him a bit at the same time.
  TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: 2B Craig Counsell entered spring training with the keys to the starting job even though he may be better served as a super-utility player coming off the bench. He can be a clutch performer but needs to prove he can still be productive on a daily basis if it means keeping two younger second basemen, Matt Kata and Alex Cintron, on the bench.
   --CF Jose Cruz Jr. was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a straight-up swap for LHP Casey Fossum. The Diamondbacks also received financial compensation to help defray part of the Cruz's $4 million salary in 2005.
   "Jose is a switch-hitter, a solid major league ballplayer and an excellent outfielder," GM Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "He's also durable."
   --C/INF/OF Robby Hammock was designated for assignment and became a free agent, but the Diamondbacks were negotiating with his agent, Bob Garber, in an attempt to sign Hammock to a minor-league deal to keep him in the organization.
   The club wasn't particularly happy with Hammock's decision, however, to continually postpone surgery on his right shoulder to repair a torn labrum. Hammock twice backed off the idea before finally getting the procedure done less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to camp.
   --LF Luis Gonzalez (right elbow), 3B Troy Glaus (right shoulder) and 2B Matt Kata received medical clearance to report and work out with pitchers and catchers.
   --In addition to the recent signing of RHP Jose Jimenez, the Diamondbacks added two more veterans to help beef up the bullpen during spring training -- lefty Donovan Osborne and right-hander Juan Acevedo.
   "It gives (manager) Bob (Melvin) more options when he puts the bullpen together," GM Joe Garagiola Jr. said.
   BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- Errors committed by Jose Cruz Jr. in 524 career games as a center fielder.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: "We saw him a lot and he did an excellent job in right field for the Giants (in 2003), and playing right field in San Francisco is just terrible." -- Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola jr. on the acquisition of Jose Cruz Jr., from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Cruz will be Arizona's new starter in center field after being dealt from Tampa Bay for LHP Casey Fossum.
   ARRIVALS: RHP Juan Acevedo (free agent), 1B Tony Clark (free agent from Yankees), SS Royce Clayton (free agent from Rockies), INF Craig Counsell (free agent from Brewers), CF Jose Cruz Jr. (trade with Devil Rays), LHP Shawn Estes (free agent from Rockies), LHP Brad Halsey (trade with Yankees), 3B Troy Glaus (free agent from Angels), RF Shawn Green (trade with Dodgers), RHP Jose Jimenez (free agent from Indians), RHP Russ Ortiz (free agent from Braves), LHP Donovan Osborne (free agent from Yankees), RHP Adam Peterson (trade with Toronto), C Kelly Stinnett (free agent from Royals), RHP Javier Vazquez (trade with Yankees).
   DEPARTURES: INF Carlos Baerga (released), RF Danny Bautista (free agent, signed with Devil Rays), INF Craig Colbrunn (free agent), RHP Mike Fetters (released), LHP Casey Fossum (traded to Devil Rays), Andrew Good (released, signed with Tigers), C/INF/OF Robby Hammock (free agent), 1B Shea Hillenbrand (traded to Blue Jays), LHP Randy Johnson (traded to Yankees), RHP Matt Mantei (free agent, signed with Boston), LHP Shane Nance (non-tendered), INF Tim Olson (non-tendered), LHP Stephen Randolph (traded to Cubs), RHP Shane Reynolds (released), RHP Scott Service (released), 1B Richie Sexson (free agent, signed with Seattle), RHP Steve Sparks (free agent, signed with San Diego).
   --RHP Javier Vazquez vows the Yankees will regret the day they traded him, and he should flourish with all the extra offense in the D-backs' lineup. Vazquez battled some second-half problems with his mechanics but is convinced he's worked out the kinks this winter. He should have plenty of motivation in 2005.
   --RHP Russ Ortiz might have been the most unheralded signing off the offseason. All he's done since making it to the majors is average 15 wins and 200-plus innings a season without ever landing on the disabled list. Needs to cut down on his walks (he issued 112 in 2004, second-most in the NL).
   --RHP Brandon Webb moves down a spot in the rotation, where there will be less pressure than last season -- he was No. 2 behind Randy Johnson in 2004. Webb and his sinker should benefit from an improved defense up the middle of the infield, and that extra confidence should curtail his walks (an NL-leading 119 last season).
   --LHP Shawn Estes gives the Diamondbacks a more-than-serviceable starter in the No. 4 spot, something they sorely lacked last season. His ERA should fall now that he's leaving the thin air of Coors Field, but he, too, needs to lower his walk total (he ranked third in the NL with 105).
   --LHP Michael Gosling heads a list of several potential candidates to nail down the No. 5 spot and must show in spring training that his un-nervy makeup sets him apart from the rest of the pack. A key will be the continued development of his off-speed pitches.
   There's no Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling on this staff, but there is strength in numbers at the top four spots. The only potential derailment here is the threat of issuing too many walks. The threesome of Ortiz, Webb and Estes issued a staggering 336 last season, and that number has to come down significantly. The top four can chew up lots of innings, however, which should save an otherwise young bullpen. Look for hard-throwing RHP Ramon Antonio Pena (formerly known as Adriano Rosario), LHP addition Brad Halsey and possibly, RHP Oscar Villarreal, a reliever, to enter the mix if LHP Mike Gosling fails to nail down the No. 5 spot.
   --RHP Greg Aquino converted his first 10 save opportunities after injuries derailed Matt Mantei, Jose Valverde and a host of others, and after finishing with 16 saves he won the job as closer and will be manager Bob Melvin's stopper barring any unforeseen developments.
   --RHP Mike Koplove was nearly dealt to the Dodgers as part of the Randy Johnson trade, but both he and the Diamondbacks are happy he's back as the club's tricky setup man. He struggled during parts of last season but finished strong by allowing just one run over his final 9 1/3 innings of relief, spanning six games.
   --RHP Jose Valverde is coming off shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and drew positive reviews on his three sessions off the mound entering camp, but there have to be some concerns. He can't be happy about losing out on the closer's job, either, but if he reports with a good attitude and a healthy arm, things should take care of themselves.
   --RHP Brian Bruney held the opposition to a .189 average, third-best among big league rookies in 2004, and his fastball is devastatingly hard to hit. He needs to continue to develop his off-speed stuff to augment his fireball, but he's a capable and improving late inning guy who can complement Koplove and Valverde as setup men and might push Aquino if the converted shortstop fails to hold down the closer's role.
   --LHP Randy Choate returns in a lefty specialist role and must be more effective this season, even if he wasn't all that bad in 2004. He has allowed only two home runs since Sept. 14, 2000 -- a span of 137 visits to the mound totaling 127 innings.
   --LHP Brad Halsey doesn't throw all that hard but has a nice assortment of pitches that makes him attractive in a bullpen role if he can't win a spot as the No. 5 starter.
   --RHP Edgar Gonzalez couldn't buy a break as a starter last season, going 0-9 with a 9.32 ERA in 10 starts in 2004, and should benefit by serving as a long reliever.
   This was supposed to be the club's greatest strength last season, but the bullpen fizzled with a 17-31 record and a 4.69 ERA. There hasn't been a ton of improvements made here, really, but the Diamondbacks did invite three veterans to camp (LHP Donovan Osborne and RHPs Juan Acevedo and Jose Jimenez) with the hope that at least one of them can re-emerge and provide some experience and help. Arizona could be asking a lot from Greg Aquino as its closer, but he seems comfortable and confident in the role. RHP Adam Peterson, acquired from Toronto in the Shea Hillenbrand trade, could make things interesting in camp if his fastball and slider lives up to expectations.
   --CF Jose Cruz Jr., acquired from Tampa Bay for LHP Casey Fossum, gives Arizona a nice option at leadoff, where he has hit successfully in the past. With so much power behind him in this lineup, his .333 on-base percentage from 2004 should balloon. 
   --SS Royce Clayton still has good speed and is highly underrated when it comes to advancing baserunners, especially when he bunts. He drove in 54 runs last season for the Rockies and likely will draw more walks (he had 48 in 2004).
   --LF Luis Gonzalez is returning from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, but the left-handed slugger wasn't nearly as affected at the plate by the torn ligament in his arm as he was defensively. He's got big protection behind him and his home run totals, which have declined every year since he clubbed 57 in 2001, could improve. His run production -- he's averaged 115 RBIs a season in Arizona until shutting it down early in 2004 -- has never been a question mark.
   --3B Troy Glaus is said to be completely recovered from shoulder surgery, which hampered much of his 2004 season, and he's expected to provide big numbers in the heart of the order as the new 40-home run man with 1B Richie Sexson having flown the coop as a free agent.
   --RF Shawn Green must be licking his chops in the fifth spot, where he figures to get tons of chances to drive in runs. Green came on strong during the second half of last season with the Dodgers, and he has hit particularly well at Bank One Ballpark in his career.
   --1B Chad Tracy hit .285 as a rookie last season and has already been compared to such consistent hitters as Wade Boggs and Mark Grace. Tracy has added some weight and hopes to improve his power game, but Arizona will be happy every time he slaps a single or double to the gaps. He could also rack up the RBIs as a sleeper in the 6 hole.
   --2B Craig Counsell returns to the Diamondbacks, where he was a fan favorite, and is a strong hit-and-run man who also finds ways to get on base. He does the little things at the plate that managers and coaches love and could bat leadoff instead of seventh, depending how Bob Melvin wants to go.
   --C Koyie Hill is coming off a pretty severe ankle injury but is ready to go and will have to fight off fellow youngster Chris Snyder for the starting job. Snyder might have more pop in his bat, but Hill isn't lacking and he's a gritty and tenacious hitter whose overall game makes him a valuable commodity.
   Manager Bob Melvin hasn't tipped his hand on a couple of spots in the batting order and was mulling over whom to hit leadoff -- Jose Cruz Jr. or Craig Counsell. If it's Counsell, then expect Chad Tracy to slide to the seventh spot with Cruz batting sixth behind the big left-right-left combination of sluggers Luis Gonzalez, Troy Glaus and Shawn Green. Though penciled in as the backup catcher, Kelly Stinnett could get more at-bats if youngsters Koyie Hill or Chris Snyder start off slowly. Overall, Arizona has plenty of offense and can put up a lot of runs quickly, which should help an equally reloaded starting rotation.
   --C Kelly Stinnett signed on as a free agent from Kansas City and is expected to be the backup to one of two youngsters slugging it out for the starting job (Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder). The loser goes to Triple-A.
   --2B Matt Kata could push Craig Counsell for a starting job in time but figures to comes off the bench for now. He's coming off shoulder surgery and is hungry to make a name for himself.
   --SS-2B Alex Cintron lost his starting job at short to newcomer Royce Clayton and spent the latter part of 2004 at second base, making him an effective utility man, especially as a switch-hitter with the ability to drive in runs.
   --1B Tony Clark joins the Diamondbacks as a free agent and will back up Chad Tracy, who's making the move from third base to first. Clark still has some decent power and can be a late-inning threat when Arizona needs some quick runs.
   --OF Luis Terrero has all the tools in the world but just needs to harness them. Once he does, he could be an All-Star. The Diamondbacks just don't think he's ready to handle the starting gig in center right now. But he's got speed, power and one heck of a strong arm.
   --OF Quinton McCracken is a versatile player who stands a strong chance to crack the 25-man roster as an extra outfielder. He's a good hit-and-run man, a fairly patient hitter, and can give corner men Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green the odd day off.
   --OF-INF Scott Hairston came up the ladder with everything on his side but might have gotten too comfortable too fast. The Diamondbacks are convinced he's a major league-ready hitter (he hit 13 homers in 2004 as a rookie), but he needs to focus on his defense, especially now that Arizona will ask him to play the outfield and spend less time at second base, where there is a logjam.
   --OF Doug DeVore was a bit of an anomaly last season (he hit just .224), but he's capable of driving in runs, is solid defensively in left or right, and has a strong and accurate arm. He'll have to really shine to make the Opening Day roster, but he's able.
   The Diamondbacks' bench is more athletic and diverse as well as younger and healthier. That should be a huge plus as the season drags on. There is better depth here, with infielders Matt Kata and Alex Cintron capable of playing every day, if needed. The 6-foot-7 Tony Clark provides good defensive and extra pop off the bench, and there is speed in the outfield with extras Luis Terrero and Quinton McCracken.
   TOP ROOKIES: LHP Michael Gosling went 9-5 with a 5.82 ERA at Triple-A Tucson before his late season call-up, and he was impressive in four starts for the Diamondbacks (going 1-1 with a 4.62 ERA). Look for either him or hard-throwing RHP Ramon Antonio Pena to battle hard for the No. 5 starter's job. Pena missed most of last season after it was learned he used a family member's identity (he formerly pitched under the name of Adriano Rosario to appear younger than he actually was). Elsewhere, two top prospects in the organization -- OFs Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin -- will be watched closely but won't be rushed until they are ready. They're not too far away, however.
   SPRING FOCUS: Just how much run production can the Diamondbacks' truly expect from the G-Force, the left-right-left slugging combination in the middle of the order consisting of Luis Gonzalez, Troy Glaus and Shawn Green. Each of them has undergone significant arm surgeries, but they all are said to be fit and ready to go. The only real jobs up for grabs is at starting catcher (Koyie Hill or Chris Snyder are the candidates) and the No. 5 starter (lefty Michael Gosling heads a list of at least four viable options). Will RHP Javier Vazquez, the new No. 1 starter, fit in and adapt after being dealt by the Yankees? There remained some talk he could be traded because of contract concerns. The rest of the starters, meanwhile, will need to cut back significantly on their walk totals from last season.
   MEDICAL WATCH: LF Luis Gonzalez, who underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right throwing elbow, will be watched closely in spring training to make sure he has recovered. Recommended Stories

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