Cockcroft: Arizona Diamondbacks preview

Once a spend-first, ask-questions-later franchise, the Diamondbacks have taken more of a turn towards youth since winning the 2001 World Series, a necessity considering reports in December indicated the team still owes nearly $100 million in deferred payments dating back to that championship corps of players, and $200 million in debt payments. Forced to turn more to youth to build a long-term winner, the Diamondbacks have done a fine job developing prospects the past six years, particularly on the hitting side.

After shedding Luis Gonzalez, the only remaining holdover from 2001 -- sorry, Randy Johnson, continuous stays only -- the 2007 Diamondbacks could feature a starting lineup of seven hitters under the age of 30, and five under 25. Sure, that could indicate inexperience might be a weakness of this year's team, but looking at the 2006 Florida Marlins' success as an example, it might also signal a hungrier squad. Keep in mind Conor Jackson (first base), Stephen Drew (shortstop) and Carlos Quentin (right field) each received valuable experience in Arizona last summer, and the trio, along with Chris B. Young (center field), did enjoy the benefit of considerable minor league development time together.

Of course, at the same time, the difference between last year's Marlins and this year's Diamondbacks is there's not one clear-cut, experienced leader in the lineup, no Miguel Cabrera type. Eric Byrnes led the squad with 26 homers in 2006, but it represented a career high for him. The Diamondbacks' middling 4.77 runs per game they averaged last season suggest this shouldn't be a bad team, but temper your expectations for these "Baby 'Backs." It might be 2008, perhaps even 2009, before these young hitters reach their peaks.