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Good year ahead for Beavers? Manager thinks so

PEORIA, Ariz. Ñ There is no telling how good the Portland Beavers will be in their third season under Manager Rick Sweet.

Sweet has a goal, though.

'We are going in with the intention of winning the PCL championship,' says Sweet, the former big-league catcher who lives in Vancouver, Wash.

That is a tall order for a franchise that hasn't won the Pacific Coast League crown since 1983 and finished a game over .500 at 72-71 last season.

Sweet's optimism is fueled by his nature Ñ half-full is always more to his liking than half-empty Ñ and the knowledge that the Beavers will have some burners who should help the run count.

One of them is Bernie Castro, a 23-year-old second baseman who hit .260 with 53 stolen bases and 61 runs in 109 games with the Class AA team in Mobile, Ala., last season.

'Bernie has never played at the Triple-A level, and I am very curious to see how he does,' Sweet says. 'A lot of people think he can be an everyday major-league second baseman. He can flat-out fly. He will be my leadoff guy, will drag bunt at least once a game and is a very good base runner. The biggest factor is how well he plays defensively.'

Half of the 22 projected Beavers from the San Diego Padres' training camp have major league experience. Ten spent some time with the Beavers last season.

Dennis Tankersley and Ben Howard, who played for both San Diego and Portland last season, will be two of the five starting pitchers.

'We have a pretty good idea about our pitching,' Sweet says. 'The biggest thing is having Tankersley and Howard, and we can stretch them out already and get them ready. We have some good arms, both with the starting group and in the bullpen.'

Phil Nevin, San Diego's starting left fielder, is expected to miss the season because of shoulder surgery. The Beaver outfield will suffer if Xavier Nady winds up replacing him. Sweet hopes for big years from Kory De Haan, Alex Fernandez, Rich Gomez and Jason Bay to compensate for Nady's absence.

'We will have more team speed,' Sweet says. 'My expectations are we will be a much better club this season. We have a lot of guys who have been there Ñ by that, I mean in the big leagues or with us last year. We will be young in age, but with a lot of experience.

'We won't have a 40-home-run hitter, but we will have guys who can drive the ball into the gaps. In PGE Park, that is important.'

Notes: Sweet has two new coaches. Mike Couchee, roving pitching instructor with the Angels organization the last 10 years, will be Portland's pitching coach. Former major leaguer Rob Deer, who hit 230 homers in his 11-year career, will be the hitting coach. É The Padres will announce their opening-day 25-man roster this weekend. Sweet, who has been working with the major league club since camp opened, then will convene his Triple-A team and prepare for next Friday's 4 p.m. exhibition against the Padres at PGE Park. The Beavers open April 3 at Sacramento. Their home opener is April 11 versus Tucson. É Veteran big-league catcher Tom Lampkin, the ex-University of Portland standout, has retired and is back with his family living in Vancouver, Wash. 'He was down (at spring training) to visit some of the guys a couple of weeks ago,' Sweet says. 'We have talked about him working for the Padres in some capacity Ñ perhaps working with catchers in our organization.'