Cockcroft: Milwaukee Brewers preview

Youth is -- and has been -- the name of the game in Milwaukee for more than a year, and now, one of 2006's most popular preseason sleeper choices among the experts takes its crack at the wild card, if not the National League Central title. At 75-87 in 2006, the Brewers did take a six-game step backwards, but there's still plenty of hope in store for 2007.

That's because the Brewers have one of the most exciting young infields in baseball, anchored by 22-year-old first baseman Prince Fielder, whose 28-homer, 81-RBI rookie season might have looked better by comparison had 2006 not been such a friendly one to first-year players. Consider that that's six homers and 18 RBI more than the 2005 Rookie of the Year, Ryan Howard, had and it's clear Fielder sure had a nice first season. Second baseman Rickie Weeks, now 24, has 21 homers and 34 stolen bases in 198 career games, and most scouts feel he'll soon be an All-Star for more than a decade. Shortstop J.J. Hardy 24, was limited to 35 games and .242-5-14 numbers, but he's another player capable of an All-Star caliber career and 20-plus-homer power. And at third base, while veteran Corey Koskie should start, his injury history suggests it won't be long before Ryan Braun, the team's top prospect there, brings his power bat to the heart of the Milwaukee order.

Plus, it's not only the infield where the team has some up-and-comers. Superutilityman Bill Hall, still only 27, will shift to the outfield, presumably center field, and he's coming off a breakout 35-homer, 85-RBI campaign. Corey Hart's also projected to start, and he showed in the minors he has double-digit ability in homers and steals. And that doesn't even account for other talented, starter-capable hitters like Geoff Jenkins, Kevin Mench and Gabe Gross. Most of these Brewers hitters are now in their prime, so there's upside in this lineup.