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Thursday, February 22, 2007
Updated: March 26, 2:32 PM ET
MLB '07 Story lines: What's your take?

SportsNation

This year's season of Major League Baseball is already shot through with controversy and unanswered questions. Some of the game's brightest stars this season have come from unexpected places. Whether it's a cavalcade of youngsters fresh from the minors, veterans from across the Pacific, or pricey sluggers with scads of potential, it's clear that there's very good baseball to be played in 2007. Of course, the threat of distraction looms large, as a tainted home run chase may take center stage alongside a raid on a pharmaceutical lab in Florida. We've assembled a list of the most interesting story lines for this upcoming season; the newest trends, the looming milestones, and the obvious question of just who will emerge victorious.

With all that said, we need your thoughts on the upcoming season, SportsNation! Each vote you cast will take you to the next story line in our list, so make sure to consider your vote carefully. Read over our analysis, and give us your opinion! While you're at it, make sure to comment on each storyline!

Will young players dominate the game?
Justin Verlander was the best pitcher on the Tigers last year.

A rookie starter (Justin Verlander) won 17 games and led the Tigers to the World Series. A rookie closer (Jonathan Papelbon) put up an ERA below 1.00. A team of rookies (Florida Marlins) nearly led a struggling franchise to the playoffs.

It seems like younger players are once again becoming more and more integral to a team's success. Forget letting them develop for years and years in the minors until Veteran X finally can't handle his position anymore; teams are entrusting rookies and near-rookies with important at-bats and innings.

We're used to unexpected young players making big impacts, but it's rare that there are so many in a single season. Some still haven't reached their full potential. Is Robinson Cano the next Rod Carew? Can Prince Fielder and Josh Barfield become better than their fathers? Is Miguel Cabrera the next Hank Aaron?

We can't possibly know yet. But it'll sure be fun to find out.

What They're Saying
Buster Olney: "[Cole] Hamels is the kind of talent who can lift a team from the pack to a division champion, the way Francisco Liriano did last season for the Twins. It's evident this is something Hamels believes he is capable of doing, if he applies himself, if he is responsible."
March 5, 2007
Phils' Hamels expects to win 20


Peter Gammons: "[Alex Gordon] from Nebraska, he with the 29 homers, 101 RBIs and 1.015 OPS in his first professional season, is the Royals' hope as their hero to make folks forget how long it's been since George Brett embodied the franchise. He will likely start at third base with Mark Teahen working in the outfield. Gordon can play first. Whatever ... he will play. He drew as many as 2,000 fans as the Royals took their caravan through the small towns of Missouri and Kansas."
Feb. 17, 2007
Watching 'kids' part of the fun


Rob Neyer: "Statistically, only one player in major league history is truly similar -- considering the raw stats -- to [Grady] Sizemore through his age 23 season (2006). That player is Duke Snider, who, like Sizemore, played sparingly in the majors at 21, emerged as a top center fielder at 22, and became a legitimate star at 23. While it's hard to imagine Sizemore's someday rivaling Cobb and Mays for the affections of baseball historians, it does not seem far-fetched to suggest that Sizemore might really be considered in Snider's class. And Snider's in the Hall of Fame."
Feb. 17, 2007
Sizemore quickly becoming a star

The Rundown: 25-and-Under Position Players

Prince Fielder could end up better than his father.
Delmon Young, OF, 21
Could be: Alfonso Soriano
2006 Stats (31 games): .317 BA, .336 OBP, .476 SLG, 106 OPS+, 3 HR, 16 R

Prince Fielder, 1B, 22
Could be: Mo Vaughn
2006 Stats: .271 BA, .347 OBP, .483 SLG, 111 OPS+, 28 HR, 81 RBI

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, 22
Could be: Ron Santo
2006 Stats: .287 BA, .351 OBP, .471 SLG, 111 OPS+, 20 HR, 111 RBI

Jose Reyes, SS, 23
Could be: Barry Larkin
2006 Stats: .300 BA, .354 OBP, .487 SLG, 118 OPS+, 19 HR, 122 R, 64 SB

Miguel Cabrera, 3B/LF, 23
Could be: Hank Aaron
2006 Stats: .339 BA, .430 OBP, .568 SLG, 159 OPS+, 26 HR, 114 RBI, 112 R

Jeff Francoeur, RF, 23
Could be: Andre Dawson
2006 Stats: .260 BA, .293 OBP, .449 SLG, 89 OPS+, 29 HR, 103 RBI

Alex Gordon, 3B, 23
Could be: George Brett
2006 Stats (AA): .324 BA, .426 OBP, .587 SLG, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 22 SB

Jeremy Hermida, RF, 23
Could be: Bernie Williams
2006 Stats: .251 BA, .332 OBP, .368 SLG, 84 OPS+ 5 HR, 37 R

Howie Kendrick, 1B/2B, 23
Could be: Chase Utley
2006 Stats (72 games): .285 BA, .314 OBP, .416 SLG, 91 OPS+, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 6 SB

Joe Mauer, C, 23
Could be: Ivan Rodriguez
2006 Stats: .347 BA, .429 OBP, .507 SLG, 144 OPS+, 13 HR, 84 RBI, 181 H, .379 CS%

Brian McCann, C, 23
Could be: Joe Torre
2006 Stats: .333 BA, .388 OBP, .572 SLG, 146 OPS+, 24 HR, 93 RBI

Hanley Ramirez, SS, 23
Could be: Jimmy Rollins
2006 Stats: .292 BA, .353 OBP, .480 SLG, 116 OPS+, 17 HR, 51 SB, 119 R

David Wright, 3B, 24
Could be: Dick Allen
2006 Stats: .311 BA, .381 OBP, .531 SLG, 136 OPS+, 26 HR, 116 RBI, 20 SB

Josh Barfield, 2B, 24
Could be: Tadahito Iguchi
2006 Stats: .280 BA, .318 OBP, .423 SLG, 94 OPS+, 13 HR, 21 SB

Robinson Cano, 2B, 24
Could be: Rod Carew
2006 Stats: .342 BA, .365 OBP, .525 SLG, 132 OPS+, 15 HR, 78 RBI

Stephen Drew, SS, 24
Could be: Derek Jeter
2006 Stats (59 games): .316 BA, .357 OBP, .517 SLG, 115 OPS+, 5 HR, 23 RBI

Grady Sizemore, CF, 24
Could be: Duke Snider
2006 Stats: .290 BA, .375 OBP, .533 SLG, 135 OPS+, 28 HR, 76 RBI, 22 SB

Ian Kinsler, 2B, 24
Could be: Chuck Knoblauch
2006 Stats: .286 BA, .347 OBP, .454 SLG, 102 OPS+, 14 HR, 11 SB

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, 24
Could be: Jon Olerud
2006 Stats: .304 BA, .362 OBP, .500 SLG, 125 OPS+, 24 HR, 82 RBI

Rocco Baldelli, CF, 25
Could be: Carlos Beltran
2006 Stats: .302 BA, .339 OBP, .533 SLG, 119 OPS+, 16 HR, 10 SB

Carl Crawford, LF, 25
Could be: Tim Raines
2006 Stats: .305 BA, .348 OBP, .482 SLG, 111 OPS+, 18 HR, 58 SB

Wily Mo Pena, RF, 25
Could be: Sammy Sosa
2006 Stats: .301 BA, .349 OBP, .489 SLG, 112 OPS+, 11 HR, 42 RBI

The Rundown: 25-and-Under Pitchers

Joel Zumaya's 103-mph fastball is practically unhittable.
Felix Hernandez, SP, 20
Could be: early Dwight Gooden
2006 Stats: 10-8 W-L, 4.52 ERA, 96 ERA+, 2.93 K/BB, 8.29 K/BB, 1.33 WHIP

Phil Hughes, SP, 20
Could be: Curt Schilling
2006 Stats (AA): 10-3 W-L, 2.25 ERA, 4.31 K/BB, 10.7 K/9, .91 WHIP

Matt Cain, SP, 22
Could be: John Smoltz
2006 Stats: 13-12 W-L, 4.15 ERA, 108 ERA+, 2.05 K/BB, 8.44 K/9, 1.28 WHIP

Joel Zumaya, RP, 22
Could be: Billy Wagner
2006 Stats: 6-3 W-L, 1.94 ERA, 232 ERA+, 2.31 K/BB, 10.5 K/9, 1.17 WHIP

Francisco Liriano, SP, 23
Could be: Johan Santana
2006 Stats: 12-3 W-L, 2.16 ERA, 207 ERA+, 4.5 K/BB, 10.71 K/9, 1.00 WHIP

Scott Kazmir, SP, 23
Could be: Steve Carlton
2006 Stats: 10-8 W-L, 3.24 ERA, 144 ERA+, 3.13 K/BB, 10.18 K/9, 1.27 WHIP

Anibal Sanchez, SP, 23
Could be: Josh Beckett
2006 Stats: 10-3 W-L, 2.83 ERA, 152 ERA+, 1.56 K/BB, 5.6 K/9, 1.19 WHIP

Cole Hamels, SP, 23
Could be: Tom Glavine
2006 Stats: 9-8 W-L, 4.08 ERA, 113 ERA+, 3.02 K/BB, 9.88 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP

Zach Greinke, SP, 23
Could be: Brett Saberhagen
2006 Stats (3 games): 1-0 W-L, 4.26 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.66 K/BB, 7.14 K/9, 1.58 WHIP

Rich Harden, SP, 24
Could be: Tim Hudson
2006 Stats: 4-0 W-L, 4.24 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.88 K/BB, 9.58 K/9, 1.22 WHIP

Justin Verlander, SP, 24
Could be: Brad Penny
2006 Stats: 17-9 W-L, 3.63 ERA, 125 ERA+, 2.06 K/BB, 6.0 K/9, 1.32 WHIP

Jered Weaver, SP, 24
Could be: Roy Oswalt
2006 Stats: 11-2 W-L, 2.56 ERA, 171 ERA+, 3.18 K/BB, 7.68 K/9, 1.03 WHIP

Boof Bonser, SP, 25
Could be: Brad Radke
2006 Stats: 7-6 W-L, 4.22 ERA, 106 ERA+, 3.5 K/BB, 7.53 K/9, 1.27 WHIP

Ian Snell, SP, 25
Could be: Roy Halladay
2006 Stats: 14-11 W-L, 4.74 ERA, 95 ERA+, 2.28 K/BB, 7.69 K/9, 1.46 WHIP

Dontrelle Willis, SP, 25
Could be: Lefty Gomez
2006 Stats: 12-12 W-L, 3.87 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1.92 K/BB, 6.44 K/9, 1.42 WHIP