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D'backs' outfield is loaded with 4 proven starters


D'backs' outfield is loaded with 4 proven starters
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The Arizona Diamondbacks have four outfielders who have started and produced in the major leagues.

Sound complicated?

Not to Conor Jackson, who joins Eric Byrnes, Chris Young and Justin Upton in the Diamondbacks' crowded outfield picture.

"Bottom line: whoever is going to hit is going to play," Jackson said before Thursday's workout at the Kino Sports Complex.

Arizona manager Bob Melvin agreed with Jackson's appraisal.

"That's the way baseball is," Melvin said. "We don't want anybody to get comfortable here."

No worries there. The outfield competition is one of the main story lines as the Diamondbacks open their 12th spring training. The club is seeking its fifth NL West title.

"I just have a feeling this whole thing's going to work itself out," said Byrnes, who turned 33 this week and is the oldest of the group. "I think everyone's going to get their fair share of at-bats and we'll all be able to push each other, and I think that's the way it should be. This is a benefit for the Diamondbacks."

At the end of last season, Jackson started in left field, Young in center and Upton in right. Byrnes, who has played all three positions, was on the disabled list with hamstring injuries.

Now Byrnes says he's healthy, and Melvin expects the competition for starting jobs to raise each player's performance. He also said having four reliable outfielders will help keep the whole unit rested.

"Barring injury, with four healthy guys, we'll be able to keep everybody fresh and motivate from within," Melvin said. "If you're doing well, you're going to play."

All four players have different strengths and weaknesses.

The 26-year-old Jackson moved to left field from first base after Byrnes got hurt, and he showed marked improvement in the field, although he's probably the weakest fielder in the group.

Jackson hit a career-high .300 last season with 31 doubles, 12 home runs and 75 RBIs. And while teammates love to rib Jackson about his speed - or lack thereof - he legged out six triples and stole 10 bases, third on the team.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm preparing to be the starting left fielder," Jackson said.

The 21-year-old Upton, the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, would seem to have the most potential.

Upton hit .250 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs in 108 games last year, missing time with an oblique muscle injury. Strikeouts are a problem - Upton fanned 121 times in 356 at-bats last season - but the club expects his discipline to improve with experience.

The 25-year-old Young, who is in the first year of a five-year, $28 million contract, is the best fielder and has shown an alluring mix of power and speed.

In 2007, Young became the first rookie in major league history to have at least 30 home runs - he had 32 - and 25 stolen bases - he had 27. But Young's steals dropped to 14 last year, and his .243 career batting average remains a concern.

Byrnes has the biggest contract - a three-year, $30 million deal that runs through 2010. He is also the biggest question mark as camp opens.

Byrnes' hamstring first acted up as he ran with Young a few days before camp opened last year. Byrnes eventually went on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

He played in only 52 games, batting .209 with six homers and 23 RBIs. Byrnes is a career .263 hitter with 101 homers in nine seasons.

Byrnes said he struggled to adjust to life on the sidelines as the Diamondbacks, the surprise winners of the NL West in 2007, stumbled down the stretch and lost a heated race with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"You just have this helpless feeling," Byrnes said. "There was nothing I could do. I probably felt more separated from the team last year than I ever have. Towards the end of the year, it was difficult because I wanted to be out there and I wanted to help."

Byrnes underwent an offseason regimen that included acupuncture, running in a pool and mountain climbing. He even did yoga.

As Byrnes dressed for the team's official picture day on Thursday, he said he's "just about" 100 percent, but he won't know for sure until he tests the hamstring in a spring training game.

Byrnes said that if he's fit, Melvin will find a way to fit him into the lineup.

"I've always said that the No. 1 thing I have to do is get healthy," Byrnes said. "I think that 'Bo Mel' is going to want to play the best nine guys. I think that's his responsibility. Now, if I'm one of the best nine guys, I expect to be in there."


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 20, 2009

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