Touring NL East training camps in Florida this spring was like watching an extended trailer for the future of baseball. At the Braves' Disney World facility, 20-year-old right fielder
One afternoon Heyward bludgeoned a shot that shattered the sun roof of a team executive's car parked some 450 feet from home plate (the damage: $3,400).
At the Nationals' home near Cape Canaveral, the career of another phenom was lifting off: 21-year-old
Prospects like 23-year-old first baseman
The stars-in-the-making may be all that stands between the Phillies and a run similar to the Braves' NL dynasty in the '90s. After three straight division titles and two consecutive trips to the World Series, Philadelphia is turning into the Evil Empire of the league. Thanks in part to surging attendance at Citizens Bank Park (73 sellouts in 2009) and soaring ratings on the team's regional TV network, the Phillies' payroll has grown from $88 million in 2006 to nearly $140 million this year. The front office has become as aggressive as the Yankees' in acquiring talent: Adding
Yet the Braves could give the Phils a scare this year if Heyward makes the kind of impact that
The Marlins, who last year had the majors' lowest payroll but still finished second in the division, have a credible core in shortstop
On the other hand, it's hard to envision the creaky Mets, losers of 92 games a year ago, reestablishing themselves atop the NL East without Davis and Martinez arriving and thriving as everyday players. And the Nationals may still be years from contending, but they finally have a player to build around in Strasburg, who will start the season at Double A Harrisburg (Pa.).
The Phillies' recent run has not come without sacrifice. To land Halladay, Lee and
"They're a model in the way they developed their superstar core," says Rizzo. "There's a lot of young talent [in the division], but it's still hard to put together a core like that. Whoever can do that will establish themselves next in the division."