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March 17, 2000

NL West Notebook

Job Battles

by Dave Pease

Arizona Diamondbacks

The reigning division champion's lineup is largely set. The one competition is in right field, vacated by leadoff hitter Tony Womack's move to shortstop. Former halo-wearer Travis Lee has to be considered the front-runner for the position, but David Dellucci and Bernard Gilkey are being given looks as well. If either Lee or Dellucci wins the spot, Gilkey could be the other half of a platoon. If Lee fails in his bid for the right-field job, a trade to a team with a place to play him is likely.

The rotation is set, as is the front half of the bullpen. Dodger refugee Jeff Kubenka could give lefty specialist Dan Plesac a run for his spot in the pen based on talent, but the team didn't trade Tony Batista for Kubenka, so he's probably out of luck. Due to the fragility of fifth starter Armando Reynoso, the last spot in the pen probably belongs to Mike Morgan, who has pitched well this spring and can step into the rotation if need be. Jeremy Ward, Byung-Hyun Kim, Brad Clontz and Jim Corsi will all get chances to unseat him.

Colorado Rockies

With the signings of Brent Mayne, Scott Servais and Raul Casanova, Ben Petrick's ticket to Colorado Springs is as good as bought, and nothing that happens this spring is likely to change that.

The Rockies are making good on their threat to start Mike Lansing at second base, although Terry Shumpert has outhit him for a year now. To be fair, Lansing hasn't been healthy during that time, but that's the point: his back may never allow him to be the player we all thought could hit 50 doubles in Coors Field. For now, Shumpert backs Lansing up.

Darren Bragg should have a shot at some tasty playing time in Coors. He's penciled in as the fourth outfielder, can handle all three outfield positions and is backing up fragile players on both corners. It remains to be seen if Bragg's knee is sound, though. He's been limping in camp and may not be able to start the season with the team, in which case Edgard Clemente would have a chance at winning the high-stakes Mike Kingery Lottery.

There's a lot of competition on the mound, where only ace Pedro Astacio (who avoided Commissioner Selig's wrath when the record of his misbehavior--spousal abuse--appeared in the police blotter rather than Sports Illustrated) is assured a spot in the rotation. Even Astacio isn't out of the woods: his assault case goes to trial July 5, and a conviction could lead to his deportation. Looking down the roster, the team will probably end up going with Masato Yoshii, Rolando Arrojo, Scott Karl and Brian Bohanon behind Astacio. Jose Jimenez, who has pitched well this spring, and John Thomson have outside shots.

Who is the closer? Jerry Dipoto is the front runner at this point, but he's battling a creaky back and hasn't been notably effective. Mike DeJean is returning from elbow surgery and was lit up for a cheap grand slam on Sunday. Former Oakland closer Billy Taylor is a factor.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are giving youngster Alex Cora every opportunity to win the shortstop job, pushing Jose Vizcaino to the utility role that the team thinks he's best suited for. But Cora hasn't converted the opportunity yet.

Todd Hundley's efforts are going a long way towards putting any grumbling about the catcher position to rest. He's hit two home runs so far, and is throwing better than he did at any point last year. He's happier with his elbow than he has been in a while.

On the mound, Carlos "Sleepy" Perez has racked up two toxic starts and one DUI arrest in his quest to become the richest pitcher in Albuquerque Dukes history. The Dodgers would prefer to start Perez and one of prospect Eric Gagne or Methuselah Orel Hershiser at the bottom of the rotation, but Perez isn't making it easy for them. Gagne hasn't been much better--just more sober--but he's probably five good innings away from locking up a spot, and Hershiser may well win the other one if Perez keeps this up.

In the pen, reliever/fragile person Gregg Olson has been bothered by his elbow so far. An MRI was reportedly negative, but you've got to worry about a guy with his injury history. The team is said to be considering shopping Alan Mills for some help at shortstop, though it's tough to move a reliever with Mills's salary unless he has a 30 save-season on his resume.

San Diego Padres

Some favorites are emerging from all the competition the Padres have in their lineup. The team appears to be serious about wanting Carlos Hernandez as their starting catcher. if that comes to pass, Wiki Gonzalez would back him up and Ben Davis (who didn't help himself out with the defensive lapses and reputed attitude problems last season) would return to Las Vegas. All three catchers have played well so far this spring.

Despite his troubles last year, the team would prefer that Damian Jackson win the starting shortstop job, and he's off to a hot start. So is Chris Gomez. At third base, Phil Nevin's ankle sprain gets All-Star/NRI Ed Sprague another shot at some playing time. Nevin is supposed to be back before the team breaks camp.

The acquisition of Al Martin clears up the outfield picture considerably. Although management has made it known that they won't tolerate another sub-.200 BA season, Ruben Rivera is the front-runner for the starting center-field job. He outhit Eric Owens in winter ball and is doing it again in spring training. Owens is the fourth outfielder and frequently-used defensive substitute for Tony Gwynn in right and Martin in left. Rule 5 pickup Kory DeHaan is off to a good start and could land the fifth outfield spot.

The rotation and bullpen are largely set, but newcomer Dan Serafini could snag the final bullpen slot. He's out of options, which helps his cause, but he hasn't pitched effectively so far, which hurts it.

Don't believe the hype: Randy Myers will not start the season with the team, and is still not healthy.

San Francisco Giants

Batless wonder Doug Mirabelli will have to outhit Bobby Estalella by a wide margin in spring training to have a shot at the starting job, and he's not going to do that. Estalella will start the season as the primary backstop, with Mirabelli as his caddy.

What is this team going to do with Russ Davis? Peter Gammons thinks Davis will hit 30 home runs as the Giants third baseman, but he's been as shaky as the Austrian tourist industry with the glove this spring. All indications are that the team is sticking to its plan to use Davis to platoon with J.T. Snow at first base and give Bill Mueller a day off once in a while.

He may not be worth a protection slot in your league, but Armando Rios doesn't have a lot of competition for the fourth-outfielder spot. With Ellis Burks's knees once again acting up, Rios could get a couple hundred at-bats this season. His main competition is Calvin Murray, who will probably end up as the fifth outfielder.

The Giants are talking about a six-man rotation, which may not be possible with Shawn Estes's shoulder woes. He's been pulled indefinitely while the team tries to diagnose the problem. Depending on the result, Mark Gardner is in as the fifth starter. Closer Robb Nen, who is recovering from season-ending surgery last year, just saw his first Cactus League action. He should be ready to start the regular season. The last pitcher in the pen could be Aaron Fultz; he fulfills the Giants' wishes for a second left-hander behind incumbent Alan Embree.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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