D-backs begin camp with high expectations

D-backs begin camp with high expectations

D-backs begin camp with high expectations
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As D-backs pitchers and catchers began reporting for duty Sunday, manager Kirk Gibson was asked about what his Opening Day roster could look like.

Gibson responded that not only did he not know at this point, he had no desire to know.

"I'm very open-minded right now," he said with a smile.

In other words, in his first spring as skipper, Gibson wants to make sure that everyone knows they have to earn a spot on the roster.

"It's going to be highly competitive, and not just with pitchers," general manager Kevin Towers said. "Competition brings out the best in people."

The D-backs are coming off back-to-back last place finishes and some see them in a rebuilding mode. Towers disagrees with that.

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"Why not?" he fired back after being asked if the D-backs could win the division in 2011. "I wouldn't be in this business if I didn't think you had a chance to win. It will be tough, it will be difficult, I would say the NL West has probably been the most volatile division, but I think we've got some good players here and it's really going to ultimately come down to our pitching. If we pitch well, there's no reason why we can't win the division. We need our players to believe that. I don't want our players saying we just have to get to .500 or have a winning record or build upon or win more games than 65. No, we want to go out and win the NL West."

The D-backs are preparing for the season in their new Spring Training home near Scottsdale that was recently completed. The D-backs will share the $100 million facility, the only Major League Spring Training facility to sit on Native American land, with the division-rival Colorado Rockies.

While the stadium itself is impressive, what D-backs players will likely appreciate most is the state-of-the-art clubhouse, trainer's room and weight room. In addition, rather than take vans from the Major League clubhouse to the practice fields, as they did in Tucson, the players will be able to walk right out of the clubhouse to either the Major League or Minor League practice fields.

"We're pretty fortunate to be able to prepare in a place like this," Gibson said.

The first workout for pitchers and catchers is scheduled for Monday. While there likely will be position players there from the start, they do not have to report until Feb. 18, and the first organized full-squad workout will take place Feb. 19.

There will be plenty of time spent on introductions, as this year's team looks quite different from the one that finished out last season.

Gone from the lineup are Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche, while Towers has almost completely remade the bullpen, signing free-agent closer J.J. Putz and acquiring promising young arms like David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio.

While the team has had a very youthful feel in recent years, this year there will be far more of a veteran presence.

Melvin Mora, 39, was signed as a free agent to replace Reynolds at third, and long-time Major Leaguers Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum and Henry Blanco were added to help give the bench a more experienced feel.

Add in free agent Xavier Nady, who is the front-runner to start in left field, and the team could see a 40 percent turnover in its Opening Day roster.

The biggest competition heading into camp appears to be for the final two spots in the rotation -- with room for two from the group of Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga, Aaron Heilman and Barry Enright -- and a few spots in the bullpen. Towers tried to build depth amongst the relievers so that spots would have to be earned during camp, with very few sure-things other than Putz, Juan Gutierrez and Heilman.

In addition, Gibson will have to decide on how to divvy up playing time in left field and first base. Newcomer Juan Miranda is a front-runner at first, but Brandon Allen could push him for time. In addition, Nady has played there, as well as Blum.

Micah Owings, who pitched for the club in 2007-08, is back. This time, the former starter is competing for a spot in the bullpen and will also get some time at first base during the spring as a way of potentially getting his potent bat in games more often.

One thing that will be different is the pace of camp. This will be the first spring in charge for Gibson, who was named interim skipper last July 1, and he has vowed that plenty of work will get done.

"I think, in the past, you don't generally practice those things maybe full speed," Gibson said, referring to things like bunt plays or rundowns. "That is something that I will try to do more of. We'll go through the walk-through, and the coaches are on the bases. But we'll also go through executing plays at full speed, at the risk of hurting somebody. But that is, in part, your responsibility also. You have to be under control and you have to take care of yourself. That's how you play the game."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.