D-backs have bright future on horizon

D-backs have bright future on horizon

DENVER -- The present was filled with hurt for the D-backs on Monday night after they were swept out of the National League Championship Series by the Rockies.

The future, on the other hand, was loaded with wonderful possibilities.

"This team has a very real chance of doing some very special things over the course of however many years," first baseman Tony Clark said.

Clark was one of the few veterans in a clubhouse that was teeming with young talent. There was shortstop Stephen Drew, outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young, third baseman Mark Reynolds, and the list goes on and on.

Talented players, who got their first full-season taste of life in the big leagues and advanced to within one step of the World Series.

Outfielder Eric Byrnes, 31, a grizzled veteran compared to his fuzzy-cheeked teammates, signed a three-year contract extension in August, and he did so in part because he was excited about the direction of the organization.

"Look at all the young guys. Look at Justin Upton, two doubles and played well beyond his years," Byrnes said referring to Upton's playoff performance. "Chris Young, the same thing. Stephen Drew. They all had good postseasons. I think we have a lot to look forward to. I think this team is going to be in the playoff hunt for a while, so it's a good thing."

The starting lineup the D-backs used in Game 4 is likely to be very close to what you'll see come Opening Day 2008.

Byrnes, Young and Upton form an outfield trio that can cover a lot of ground.

Young led the league with nine leadoff homers this year and became the first rookie in Major League Baseball history to join the 30-25 club, compiling 32 homers and 25 stolen bases.

Upton was thrust into a starting role in early August at age 19, and at times he showed the skills that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

"The expectations raise a group, the more success you have over the course of the season," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "It certainly has with us. It's got the potential to be a very, very nice run. And we've got a lot of younger players that not only have more upside, I think, as far as numbers go, but with the experience they've accumulated this year, whether it's big games down the stretch, postseason, whatever, I think they're going to be better because of it."

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In the infield, Reynolds will be the likely starter at third as Chad Tracy's season-ending knee surgery casts doubt on his availability for the start of the 2008 season. Reynolds began this year riding the buses in Double-A Mobile before getting what was supposed to be a short-term promotion to the big leagues. It wound up being much more than that, as he hit .279 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs while assuming the starting role at third.

Drew underperformed at the plate but played good defense, and the club is still confident that he's the player who hit .316 in 2006 rather than the one who hit .238 this year.

Second baseman Orlando Hudson, who is heading into his final year of salary arbitration, will almost certainly be back. Hudson's 2007 season was cut short when he had surgery on his left thumb on Sept. 10.

"It means a lot to have the young kids come back another year older," Hudson said. "Things are going to go good for us."

The D-backs do have a bit of a logjam at the corner infield spots with Reynolds, Tracy, Clark and Conor Jackson, but their ability to make a trade there is hampered by Tracy's health and the uncertain status of Clark, who will be a free agent.

Catcher Chris Snyder, who seemed to come into his own during the season's second half, and Miguel Montero formed a solid tandem behind the plate, with Montero performing well as a pinch-hitter.

As for the pitching staff, starters Brandon Webb, Doug Davis and Micah Owings return while the club is hopeful that Randy Johnson will make a full recovery from his second back surgery in as many years. The expected departure of Livan Hernandez will leave Arizona with at least one slot to fill.

"Looking around here and seeing these young guys and the talent we have gives me a secure feeling about the next few years," said Davis, who has two years left on his contract.

The back end of the bullpen -- Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde -- that proved to be so formidable this year, along with Juan Cruz, is under club control. The D-backs will have to make a decision on Edgar Gonzalez, who will be eligible for salary arbitration, and they will need to determine whether right-hander Dustin Nippert is better suited as a starter or reliever.

"Talented guys that have the ability to get better," said Melvin, "and with the experience that they're getting here, I think it's the start of something very big for us and we're excited about the future of the Diamondbacks."

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