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Whose farm system will shine in '07?

Whose farm system will be the talk of 2007?

In 2005, the Atlanta Braves shocked the baseball world by steamrolling to a 90-72 record and the National League East division title with a roster that featured, at one time or another, 18 rookies, among them outfielder Jeff Francoeur, catcher Brian McCann, and pitchers Chuck James and Kyle Davies.

In 2006, the Los Angeles Dodgers went into the season with a veteran squad that, as veteran squads often do, had its share of bumps and bruises. But a kiddie corps of Baby Blue prospects -- such as catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney, outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, and pitcher Chad Billingsley -- came to the rescue and helped propel the team to the postseason as the NL Wild Card winner, with an 88-74 record that technically tied them with San Diego atop the NL West.

So which team can be expected to receive the most high-impact help from its farm system in 2007?

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Our prediction: Arizona Diamondbacks fans will be paying royalties to Chili's as they sing, "We want our Baby 'Backs."

Last year, despite a 76-86 record, the D-backs began funneling the jewels of a deep farm system onto the field in Phoenix. First baseman Conor Jackson, right fielder Carlos Quentin and shortstop Stephen Drew -- the club's first-round picks in 2003 (Jackson and Quentin) and 2004 -- all enjoyed successful rookie campaigns and head into '07 with their starting jobs pretty much locked up.

That sophomore trio is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Not only is there more -- much more -- where that came from, the club should be very much in the swing of the NL West this year, with at least five members of the starting lineup in their first or second Major League season.

Two rookies who should join the aforementioned trio in the bigs right away are Chris Young, the leading contender in center field, and catcher Miguel Montero, who heads into camp vying with veteran Chris Snyder for the starting job.

Young is the only member of the bunch who is not technically "homegrown," having come over to the D-backs from the White Sox in the offseason trade for pitcher Javier Vazquez. The Sox opted to go with another rookie, Brian Anderson, in center, freeing up Young, much to Arizona's benefit.

Montero, signed in 2001 from his native Venezuela, is one of the top offensive catching prospects in the game. He batted .286 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Tucson before making his Major League debut in September, after hitting .326 with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs in 2005. Look for him to wrest the starting job from Snyder, a .231 career hitter who profiles better as a fine backup.

Other homegrown hitters who could see substantial time in the bigs with the D-backs next year include outfielder Scott Hairston, MiLB.com's Triple-A Player of the Year in 2006, when he hit .323 with 26 homers and 81 RBIs; and super-utilityman Mark Reynolds, a 14th-rounder from 2004 who combined to hit .318 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in just 106 games between Class A Lancaster and Tennessee before heading to the Olympic qualifiers with Team USA.

The top of the team's rotation is a little more seasoned, with ace Brandon Webb joined by future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis, but the fifth slot is wide open, and the system's two top pitching prospects will be very much in the race.

Micah Owings, a third-rounder from 2005, went an impressive 16-2 between Tennessee (2.91 ERA) and Tucson (3.70 ERA), and was the winning pitcher as the Sidewinders won the Triple-A championship.

Dustin Nippert, a 15th-rounder in 2002, has posted a 3.30 ERA over his five pro seasons.

And though the club heads into 2007 with Jose Valverde in the closer role, keep a close eye on Tony Pena to challenge for that job down the line. A starter for the first few years of his Minor League career, and known for his great stuff, Pena shifted to the back end of the bullpen last year and combined for a 1.35 ERA and 13 saves between Tennessee and Tucson, walking seven and striking out 38 in 46 2/3 innings.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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