The calendar keeps flipping pages, and now the days are numbered. When position players report for the start of spring training, Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin still intends to carry out his decision to use rookie Conor Jackson as his starting first baseman and bring Tony Clark off the bench.
Both will get their fair share of playing time during the Cactus League schedule, but once Opening Day comes, assuming Jackson and Clark both are healthy, it will be Jackson collecting most of the at-bats.
This is the same Jackson who was billed as a can't-miss prospect and who tore up the minor leagues but hit just .200 in his first 85 major-league at-bats.
And it's the same Clark who hit .304 with 30 home runs and 87 RBIs and did it all in just 349 at-bats.
"I was pretty excited when he (Melvin) told me that," Jackson said. "It's definitely something you want to hear. I just said to myself, 'OK, it's time to get my stuff together.' I've got to have a good spring training, start off hot, and show them that I can do this.
"At the same time, though, it was a shock because Tony is coming off a year when he just went off."
Melvin and the Diamondbacks are convinced that having a full spring training with the knowledge that the job is his to lose will give Jackson confidence and help his true talents show. He has the mental capabilities to pull it off, too, even though he fought with himself for the rest of the season after a particularly embarrassing road series in Miami when nothing went right.
"I carried that trip around with me for a while," Jackson said, acknowledging that a host of strikeouts and errors against the Marlins slowly ate away at him and a decrease in playing time soon followed.
"But I had friends in the game tell me, 'Look, there are going to be at least four or five times a year when you're just going to look stupid,' so that made me feel better. But that was the roughest series I've ever had in baseball."
Melvin is on record as saying that sitting a slugger who launched 30 homers in more or less a part-time role might be perceived as a risky move, but if Jackson delivers, the school of thought is that Clark, with more experience and the ability to produce off the bench, is capable of another big year.
After all, he's only 33. Just because he's been used predominantly off the bench since leaving the Tigers after the 2001 season doesn't mean he's wasted parts. Another thing working in Arizona's favor is that Clark doesn't stew; he's a total team player and a leader in the clubhouse. He also avoided the disabled list in 2005 and keeps himself in great shape.
He is the perfect mentor for Jackson, too. The two have started working out together, taking groundballs and hitting the cages, talking all the while.
"Tony's the best guy in baseball. Honestly,"
Jackson said. "I've talked to him a bunch this offseason already, and his door
is always open. He's the type of player I want to aspire to be. He prides
himself in everything he does, and it's always 100 percent."
--SS Alex Cintron remains on the trading block, but the Diamondbacks haven't found a deal to their liking. If Cintron gets moved, it might not happen until after he reports to spring training.
--Arizona's five-man bench is expected to include 1B Tony Clark, INFs Damion Easley and Andy Green, OF Luis Terrero and backup C Chris Snyder. Koyie Hill, the Diamondbacks' Opening Day catcher in 2005, isn't out of the mix, but Snyder still appears to be the favorite among the two.
--Chase Field, formerly known as Bank One Ballpark, is undergoing more revisions than just a name change this year. Among some of the facelifts to the stadium are two high-end, field-level suites that will be affixed at the end of each dugout, along with a new supercharged sound system and the largest LED board in baseball.
The display board, which cost $3.3 million and will wrap around most of the field, should be in place when the Diamondbacks face the New York Yankees in two exhibition games at Chase Field on March 31 and April 1.
--Manager Bob Melvin and GM Josh Byrnes recently met with INF Craig Counsell and LF Luis Gonzalez to discuss the players' participation in the World Baseball Classic. Both were picked for the preliminary U.S. roster and can report as early as Feb. 1 to spring training, should they choose.
--Manager Bob Melvin on new CF Eric Byrnes: "He's a high-energy guy, and that's something we've been criticized a little bit for not having. But he brings it. He plays like his hair is on fire."
BY THE NUMBERS: 189 -- Consecutive games without an error by outfielder Shawn Green, entering the 2006 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're starting to see defense come back to being more of a premium. It seems like power numbers are down a little, anyway. But the game goes in cycles. For a while it was stolen bases, bunting, running and manufacturing runs. Then it was...everybody sitting back and waiting for walks and the three-run homer. Now I think we're starting to see it balance out a little more. But defense has always been a premium for me." -- Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin on the state of the game in 2006.
With Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal out of the picture, manager Bob Melvin's bullpen will be anchored by closer Jose Valverde, with RHP Brandon Medders likely moving in as the setup man and RHP Greg Aquino and newly acquired RHP Luis Vizcaino working late innings.
ARRIVALS: RHP Miguel Bautista (trade with Toronto), 2B Orlando Hudson (trade with Toronto), CF Eric Byrnes (free agent from Baltimore), RHP Orlando Hernandez (trade with White Sox), RHP Luis Vizcaino (trade with White Sox), C Johnny Estrada (trade with Atlanta), LHP Jason Grimsley (free agent from Baltimore), INF Damion Easley (free agent from Florida), LHP Terry Mulholland (minor league free agent from Minnesota).
DEPARTURES: 3B Troy Glaus (traded to Toronto), RHP Javier Vazquez (traded to White Sox), RHPs Oscar Villarreal and Lance Cormier (traded to Atlanta), RHP Tim Worrell (free agent, signed with San Francisco), C Kelly Stinnett (free agent, signed with New York Yankees), OF Quinton McCracken and C Kelly Stinnett (outrighted to Triple-A Tucson, elected free agency), LHP Shawn Estes (free agent, signed with San Diego).
BIGGEST NEEDS: The addition of RHP Miguel Batista via a trade with Toronto gives Arizona some much-needed depth, but the rotation as it stands now -- Brandon Webb, Russ Ortiz, Orlando Hernandez and Batista with youngsters Brad Halsey, Dustin Nippert and Michael Gosling in the hunt of the No. 5 spot -- doesn't pack much of a bite on the surface. Webb has been anointed the ace after signing a four-year contract extension.
FREE AGENTS: SS Royce Clayton, OF Quinton McCracken, LHP Buddy Groom. ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: None.
IN LIMBO: INF Alex Cintron figures to be dealt during spring training.
MEDICAL WATCH: INF/OF Scott Hairston (torn labrum in left shoulder) should be ready for spring training.