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February 26, 1999

NL West Notebook

Potential Breakouts and Flops for 1999

by Dave Pease

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

The Diamondbacks went on a well-publicized spending spree in the offseason, and bought themselves some decent pitching in the process. They'll need it, because the offense is saddled with ancient players at key positions. New left fielder Luis Gonzalez will have trouble duplicating his decent 1998, and one of the few youngsters in the lineup, Tony Batista, probably won't slug .500 again. Newly acquired Steve Finley may hit as well as he did last year, but that's not exactly an endorsement. Meanwhile, it is tough to believe that third baseman Matt Williams and right fielder Bernard Gilkey will be as terrible as they were last year. Look for Williams to regain some of his power, and Gilkey to best last year's .233 BA. Neither of these players will likely be league average; the only Arizona hitters who look to have a chance of that are C Kelly Stinnett, who will make people forget about Jorge Fabregas in a hurry, and heralded first baseman Travis Lee, who should lead the team's offense this year.

I thought Omar Daal was better than most people did, but I don't think he's this good. His performance last year was among the league's best (146 H in 162.2 IP, 2.88 ERA), and look for him to backslide a bit. Newly signed ace Randy Johnson won't have any trouble matching his numbers in Seattle last year, but may not live up to his otherworldly performance in Houston down the stretch. A guy with closer Gregg Olson's recent medical history shouldn't be counted on for much; he pitched well last season, but a repeat is far from a certainty. One guy who could really bust out is middle man Amaury Telemaco, who is probably best suited to multiple innings per appearance. With Arizona's stacked rotation, he's got no chance of starting, but he's got great stuff, and could be one of the better long relievers in the league if used correctly.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Fonzie Bichette and Vinny Castilla should be feeling pretty good this spring, and not just because they play for a team whose home park appears to be uniquely suited to their talents: they've finally got a real leadoff hitter to bat behind, which means they should pile up RBIs. Center fielder Darryl Hamilton gives the Rockies their first legit glove merchant, and he loved the thin air in his tryout last year. He's a much better fit for this team than Ellis Burks, and should have a fine season. It's tough to say that the vastly overrated but consistent Bichette or Castilla are going to lose ground, and Todd Helton should just get better, but I'm still not convinced Larry Walker is a legitimate .360 hitter, even on Planet Coors.

The Blake Street Bomb Squad will again give up tons of runs in 1999, and of course it isn't all their fault. Look for lottery winner Brian Bohanon to put up the worst raw numbers in the league, as he reverts to form in an extremely hostile environment. Pedro Astacio really isn't quite this bad, and he should improve on his horrendous 1998.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Expect the go-go top-of-the-order duo of Eric Young and Devon White to lose a bit at the plate in 1999; both played better than expected in 1998, and both are getting on in years. From the "obvious" file comes the news that third baseman/super hero Adrian Beltre can't help but improve on the performance the Dodgers got from third base in 1998; look for him to end the season as one of the best third basemen in the league.

On the other side of the ball, Jeff Kubenka is an excellent reliever waiting for his chance. Look for him to make the squad and trash opposing hitters all season. Antonio Osuna didn't pitch badly in 1998, but he can do better--and probably will--in 1999. This looks to be an intimidating crew, but if there's a guy who might not match his previous performance, it could be new ace Kevin Brown or fairly new closer Jeff Shaw. Both were great again in 1998, and either could have a worse relative season and still be great in 1999. Ramon Martinez is a serious question due to his gimpy throwing shoulder; don't count on him for anything this year.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Tony Gwynn didn't have a particularly strong year last season while the team was being carried by Greg Vaughn's home run heroics. Now that Vaughn is gone, the Pads need Gwynn to hit like he did in 1997 for them to make a run at the title. I don't think it's gonna happen. Import Reggie Sanders hasn't been healthy since he was in grade school, but he'll almost certainly hit better than he did last year. New full-time center fielder Ruben Rivera will make fans forget about Finley, and George Arias will be a reasonable fill-in for Ken Caminiti's faltering defense and chronic injuries. Keep a careful eye on leadoff hitter Quilvio Veras; he is recovering from surgery on both shoulders in the offseason. He should come back as good as ever, and the news is that he's healing up faster than was first expected.

The pitching staff is in for a big letdown following last season's heroics. Andy Ashby was on his way to his best season in 1998 before he injured himself, and he should be back strong in 1999. Unfortunately, Woody Williams is no Joey Hamilton. Though Hamilton's been disappointing, he was great down the stretch last season, and the Padres won't get that from the older, more frail Williams. Trevor Hoffman was good even for Hoffman last year, and probably won't be able to repeat. The same can be said of middle reliever Donne Wall and, to a lesser degree, setup man Dan Miceli.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

If you think Jeff Kent is a better player than Barry Bonds, you're probably one of those people who think Roscoe P. Coltrane was the best driver the Hazzard County Sheriff's Department had to offer. Look again; Cletis was both more consistent and less likely to wreck his car. Put that in baseball terms, and you've got Bonds and Kent. That's not to slight Jeff Kent, who is a fine second baseman and a solid offensive player, but don't expect him to go .359/.555 this year. Marvin Benard was Scrappy-Doo to Bonds' Scooby in the outfield, and that's not going to happen again either.

Robb Nen had the season of his life in 1998, when he was arguably the best reliever in the league. He'll have his hands full trying to repeat that this year. Shawn Estes was extremely flammable after a good season in 1997, but he's young and has good stuff. He'll likely avoid the long ball and keep the walks down better than he did last year, and should reclaim his status as the Giants "ace."

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

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