D-backs Spring Battle: 13th Position Player

Romero's great grab (Denis Poroy/AP)

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a dozen position players locked onto the 25-man roster. Of the three leading candidates to claim the 13th spot, two of them would be lost to the waiver wire if they do not break camp with the big league squad.

The Diamondbacks were so thin in the outfield last winter after trading top prospect Carlos Gonzalez and fellow minor-leaguer Aaron Cunningham to Oakland in the deal for right-hander Dan Haren that they signed Trot Nixon after a tryout a day into spring training.

Things have changed.

The D-backs open spring training with four legitimate outfield starters -- Eric Byrnes, Conor Jackson, Chris Young, and Justin Upton. Jackson will open the season in left field because of the return of first baseman Chad Tracy to regular status after two seasons of knee woes.

The team is so deep that it might not have room for one of its best defensive outfielders, Alexander Romero, who is out of options. The D-backs have carried only four outfielders in the past few years as a concession to sticking with 12 pitchers.  Romero could be a casualty this spring unless the team moves Byrnes, who must agree to any deal because of a complete no-trade provision.

Alex Romero saved a game in San Diego last season with the D-backs' defensive play of the year, running full speed from right field to the fence in right-center to take an extra-base hit away from Jody Gerut with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning. Doug Davis wound up with a 3-0 victory.

Romero, first baseman Joshua Whitesell, and catcher James Skelton appear to be the top candidates for the fifth and final spot on the bench with Byrnes, catcher Miguel Montero, first baseman Tony Clark, and infielder Augie Ojeda already locked in.

Whitesell had a breakout season at Triple-A Tucson -- hitting .328 with 36 doubles, 26 homers and a franchise-record 110 RBI -- but, like Clark, is only a first baseman. Skelton was selected in the Rule 5 draft from Detroit and must be offered back to the Tigers if he fails to make the major league roster.

SNAKE BYTES

-- Manager Bob Melvin, the NL Manager of the Year in 2007, has been ahead of the curve in his use of statistical analysis -- a reason he is such a good fit with general manager Josh Byrnes -- and he uses those numbers in an attempt to give his players their best chance to succeed. A former major league reserve, Melvin understands the importance of keeping everyone on the roster involved and is a master at it. Pitching coach Bryan Price was Baseball America's minor league coach of the year in 2007, and third base coach Chip Hale is considered one of the best young managing prospects in the game.

--The Diamondbacks signed reliever Tom Gordon earlier this month in the hopes he could shore up a bullpen that lost two veteran free agents, RHPs Brandon Lyon and Juan Cruz. Lyon signed with the Tigers, which nets the D-backs a supplemental draft pick. Cruz remains on the market, and would bring back two extra draft picks if he were to sign with another team.

The next question is, when will Gordon be ready? Although Gordon believes he is quickly recovering from July right elbow surgery, it is uncertain if he will be ready out of spring training. That could give relievers such as LHP Doug Slaten, RHP Jailen Peguero, RHP Leo Rosales, LHP Travis Blackley, RHP Juan Gutierrez, and RHP Yusmeiro Petit another shot to break camp. Blackley, Gutierrez, and Petit are out of options.

--The Diamondbacks invited 17 non-roster players to spring training, including their 2008 first-round draft pick, LHP Daniel Schlereth. Other invitees are RHP Hector Ambriz, RHP Tony Barnette, RHP Brooks Brown, C Luke Carlin, C Ed Easley, RHP Seth Etherton, OF Evan Frey, C John Hester, RHP Reid Mahon, OF Trent Oeltjen, OF Gerardo Parra, OF Chris Roberson, INF Ryan Roberts, INF Rusty Ryal, OF Brandon Watson, and INF Josh Wilson. Parra will make his second consecutive appearance in big-league camp.  He went 10-for-15 (.667) with three doubles and a home run last spring.

--RHP Brandon Webb was disappointed when his $56 million contract extension was pulled off the table last August, and he said so at the time. And that appears to be that. Webb, friendly and giving of his time, does not plan to discuss his contract situation this season. He is to make a relatively inexpensive $6.5 million this season, with the D-backs holding an $8.5 million option for 2010 that includes a buyout worth $2 million.

--Because other teams appear to have been scared off by RHP Juan Cruz's compensatory value, the D-backs have talked about re-signing Cruz, a free agent who made $1,937,500 last year. Cruz is a Type-A free agent after going 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings last season, meaning a team that signs him would lose a first or second-round draft pick this summer.

DIAMOND STAT: 113 -- Errors by the Diamondbacks in 2008, fourth-most in the National League. Those errors led to 71 unearned runs, second-most in the NL..

QUOTABLE: "This is a very good team with what I consider one of, if not the, best rotations in the league." -- D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall.


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