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D'backs preview: Shortstop

2004 performance (SS only) 
Alex Cintron    .259/.300/.365, 4 HR, 45 RBI 
Jerry Gil               .165/.172/.212, 0 HR, 18 RBI 

2005 predictions
Royce Clayton   .248/.311/.370, 9 HR, 43 RBI
Alex Cintron    .285/.328/.406, 4 HR, 29 RBI
Part of the justification for the trade that brought Richie Sexson here was the belief that Alex Cintron was fit to play shortstop every day. This showed a touching faith that Cintron's excellent 2003 stats (.317/.359/.489) were an accurage reflection of his ability, and not the aberration his minor league average of .297 suggested.

2004 proved a massive reality check for both Cintron and the D'backs, as he proved a liability with both bat and glove. His average plummeted 50+ points, his power almost entirely evaporated (slugging % down 120 points). Cintron did show improvement late last year - after the callup of Jerry Gil implied his position was on the line, Alex responded by hitting .343 in September. [Gil has started his big league career by having, so far, 86 straight at-bats without a walk. Jeff Kunkel holds the ML record with 132, though Gil will begin the 2005 season a) injured, and b) in AAA]

However, his defensive issues forced the Diamondbacks hand, since their rotation featured the most extreme ground-ball starter in baseball (Brandon Webb, whose GB/FB career ratio is 3.50), and now has another leaning that way in Shaun Estes (1.80, which helps explain how he won 15 games in Coors). As a comparison, the median among qualifying NL pitchers last year was 1.35; the 2005 D'backs expect more than their share of ground balls, and decided it would be nice to have someone who could handle them - even if their skills with the bat were questionable.

Enter Royce Clayton - only David Eckstein made fewer errors among shortstops last year. So far, so good. However, when you're hitting just .279 for the Colorado Rockies, questions need to be asked - on the road, he batted .259, and at 35, he'll be a year older and slower this time round. Cintron, meanwhile, will likely start off in a backup role, though we can expect something of a rebound - the "real" Alex Cintron likely lies somewhere between the 2003 and 2004 versions.