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The future is now for young D-backs

The future is now for the young D-backs

PHOENIX -- For the D-backs, the future has arrived.

Throughout the spring and early part of the 2006 season, there was always talk about young players like shortstop Stephen Drew and outfielders Carlos Quentin and Chris Young, all of whom began the year in Triple-A.

Everyone knew at some point that group would be in the big leagues and start a new era of D-backs baseball.

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That time is now.

In 2007, the trio will join fellow young players Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy to form what the organization hopes will be its core for years to come. And don't forget about catcher Miguel Montero or infielder Alberto Callaspo, both of whom should see significant playing time.

"These are the young guys we've been talking about," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "We got a glimpse of what they could do last year. They know what it's like up here now. It should make them that much better this year."

Gone are veterans Luis Gonzalez and Craig Counsell. The purple and turquoise uniforms of the franchise's first nine seasons are history. And the organization hopes the four-year playoff drought will come to an end as well -- although reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb and returning veteran Randy Johnson likely would have as much to do with that as the influx of youth.

Drew was the first of the bunch to arrive last year when he replaced an injured Counsell on July 15. The 23-year-old (he'll turn 24 in March) showed his big-league readiness offensively by hitting .316 to go with 13 doubles, seven triples and five homers in just 200 at-bats. Defensively, he was also impressive, showing good instincts and range along with a strong arm.

Quentin's debut came five days after Drew's, and the 24-year-old made the most of it as he smacked a two-run homer off Mark Hendrickson that same night. An excellent defender in right field, Quentin showed good pop at the plate with nine homers in 166 at-bats.

Young arrived on Aug. 18, and it didn't take long for him to show why he's regarded as a five-tool-type player. He made some highlight reel plays defensively, flashed his tremendous speed and hit a couple of long home runs.

More important than the numbers each put up is the experience they received. They had a chance to see pitchers make adjustments to them and, in most cases, they adjusted right back.

"The experience I'm getting now is going to help me out for next year," Drew said towards the end of 2006. "It's still the same game going out and playing every day. It's a grind for the last month because in Triple-A you're playing five months, but in the big leagues you're playing six months. That's why this year has been such a benefit to me, because I've gotten to play this extra month and next year I'll know what it will be like."

Drew and Orlando Hudson will start up the middle, while Tracy (third) and Jackson (first) will handle the corners in the infield.

Young's presence in center means that Eric Byrnes will shift to left with Quentin in right. Montero will likely split the catching duties with Chris Snyder.

But while the everyday lineup will be young -- Byrnes (31) and Hudson (30) are the graybeards -- the D-backs have every intention of contending this year. And, please don't use the word "development" around Arizona's brass.

"Development implies that these guys aren't ready," D-backs GM Josh Byrnes said. "These guys are ready to perform. It's becoming their team."

Melvin and his coaches will help in the development, er, continuing maturation process.

"It's enjoyable for a manager and a coaching staff to have players at this point in their careers," said Melvin, who also did not use the word development when talking about his team. "You have a chance to be influential with guys at their stage, and we feel like we've got a great coaching staff that will do that."

Steve Gilbert 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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