Cockcroft: Florida Marlins preview

They say baseball's a kid's game, and that sure was the case with the 2006 Marlins. Coming off their second winter fire sale in a decade -- the last was the one following their 1997 World Series championship -- the Marlins entered last season with easily the youngest and cheapest roster in the big leagues. They used 22 different rookies, 11 of them making their major league debuts, and set a record for at-bats by rookies (3,694).

One might think such an inexperienced team would be destined for a finish much like the Marlins' last post-fire sale squad of 1998, a team that went 54-108. Instead the 2006 team actually hung in the wild-card race deep into September, at one point surging to two games over .500 (73-71 on Sept. 11), and finished a respectable 78-84. In the process, the Marlins' shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, won the National League Rookie of the Year award, and the team set a record for most different rookies being named on those ballots (6). Four different starters registered double-digit wins, also a major league record, and one of them, Anibal Sanchez, tossed a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks on Sept. 6.

Now, a year older, a year wiser, the Marlins might strike some as a team ready to make an impact in the postseason races. But before we tack on a handful more wins and call for breakouts all around on the basis of "experience," let's not overlook that the 2007 Marlins will, once again, enter the season as baseball's youngest team. Alex Sanchez, a dark-horse candidate for the center-field race, is the only potential starter older than 29 (he's 30). Of the team's realistic rotation candidates, Sergio Mitre (26) is the only one older than 25. And the team's likely leadoff man (Ramirez) and No. 3 hitter (Miguel Cabrera) are each 23.