Will anyone emerge as this year’s Diamondbacks, a team that comes out of nowhere to win 90-plus games and qualify for bonus baseball in October? Larkin doesn’t see the Washington Nationals leapfrogging the Phillies or the Atlanta Braves just yet, but he points to an emerging core of high-end talent in D.C. led by pitcher Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Of all the game’s touted prospects, Larkin has highest hopes for Nats prospect Bryce Harper, who won’t turn 20 until October.

“If you see him swinging the bat, you know he’s not a kid. He’s got big-time power, big-time athleticism and a big-time baseball IQ,” Larkin says. “If [Nats manager] Davey [Johnson] believes he’s ready, then why let him stay in the minor leagues and play against kids who aren’t as good as he is? Let him come up and take his lumps.”

As for award and World Series picks, Larkin says he’s “not into the swami-projecting kind of thing.” That said, Strasburg and Tampa Bay Rays David Price and Matt Moore headline his list of young pitchers to watch. For young position players, he expects Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen to take another step toward elite status and Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton to enjoy hitting behind Reyes and Ramirez.

When pressed for his 2012 World Series pick, Larkin circles back to where he started. “Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder,” he says. “Both those teams were right there, and both went out and got better.” So an Angels-Tigers American League Championship Series it is, with the Angels taking the ALCS and triumphing over the National League representative, the Diamondbacks, in the World Series.

“It will be a dogfight,” Larkin promises.