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Mike Berardino article on Dontrelle Willis.


Aug 22, 2002
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BERARDINO: Willis could give Marlins? pitching staff a major boost
Published May 6, 2003

HOUSTON ? True talent knows no timetable. Genuine giftedness does not adhere to anyone else's schedule.

And so here we find the Marlins, stumbling in the standings, reeling in the trainer's room, wrestling with their most compelling internal argument in some time.

Is it time to bring up Dontrelle Willis?

Your heart tells you yes. Get the kid up here now, stick him in the starting rotation and see what he can do.

After all, he's their most prized pitching prospect and he isn't just thriving in the Double-A Southern League, he's turning it upside down.

Willis, at 21, may only recently have reached legal drinking age but he's 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA for the Carolina Mudcats.

"He's dealing," Marlins closer Braden Looper said, using that tasty bit of baseball argot.

Now it's your head's turn, and your head says hold on just a minute. Willis may be blowing away Double-A hitters, but it's quite a leap from Zebulon, N.C., to Pro Player Stadium. Good as he is, Willis has only six starts above Class A.

Plus, there's the health issue. He was shut down at the end of last summer with a bruised triceps.

Extensive tests turned up nothing alarming, but after what the Marlins just went through with A.J. Burnett, do they really want to put any undue stress on Willis' golden left arm?

Heart's up again and it would like to point out that Jeremy Bonderman, who should be a college freshman, recently pitched the putrid Detroit Tigers to their second win of the season. He did this at Oakland against the A's, the organization that drafted him.

For good measure, he outpitched Barry Zito, the American League's reigning Cy Young winner, tossing eight innings of three-hit ball. Bonderman is 20.

Ah, but your head would like to point out Bonderman is 1-4 with a 7.50 ERA in his other five starts this season. Bonderman had 157 innings in the minors. Willis is at 3151/3.

Your honor, the heart would like to present an expert witness. Name of Jeff Torborg. Title of Marlins manager.

"I know it's a big leap from Double-A and that would be asking a lot of Dontrelle, but this kid's got all the tools," Torborg said over the weekend. "He's very mature, very enthusiastic and animated. He's a unique mixture of athletic ability and enthusiasm."

The kid never stops smiling. That's why even his future Marlins teammates are calling for his promotion.

Torborg sure wants him. He tells the story of the spring game in Sarasota when Willis, facing Ken Griffey Jr. for the first time, gave up a rocket into the teeth of a ferocious wind.

On a calm day, the ball might have landed in Bradenton, but Willis was undaunted. He came back to the dugout and noted it "sure was a good day for the wind to be blowing."

"He's so darn positive," Torborg said. "We'd tell him, `Don't get down,' and he'd say, `No, sir. I won't.' He's sincere, too. He's not BS-ing at all."

For good measure, Torborg trotted out a litany of rookies who came up and gave their teams a lift.

Bob "Hurricane" Hazle with the '57 Milwaukee Braves. Al Worthington with the '53 New York Giants. Karl Spooner with the '55 Brooklyn Dodgers.

He didn't even mention Fernando-mania. He didn't have to.

"This game is historically filled with guys coming to the big leagues and giving their team a boost," Torborg said. "We need help. It's obvious."

Willis could be the latest phenom.

Whoa, buddy. It's your head talking again. May we point out that the scouts say young Mr. Willis, for all of his numerical success, still piles up too many pitches in too short a span.

Plus, before we hand him the key to unincorporated Miami-Dade County or rename Dan Marino Boulevard in his honor, there's the small matter of the kid's stuff. It's not overpowering.

Far from it.

He only hits the low 90s on the radar gun. Makes his living off hitting the corners and hiding the ball and coming at batters with knees and elbows and an unusual arm slot.

If you're looking for the left-handed Doc Gooden, you'll be sadly disappointed.

Oh, yeah? Well here's a word of advice from your heart to your head: Stuff it, pal.

It's time to go with the flow. Time to throw caution to the wind.

It's time to bring up the kid.

Mike Berardino can be reached at mberardino@sun-sentinel.com.

Catchy line..."true talent knows no timetable."

Wild Card

Apr 25, 2003
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Your right. A great quote... I might have to steal it! lol. I think he will come up and do just fine... Not phenominal, but good/ maybe great....If he turns out to be the next Fransisco Rodriguez like amazing call-up...


Sep 2, 2002
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Bring Him up Already! He is ready, well thats what Minor league officials say. He proved to us in ST what he could do. He almost made the team and in AA he is 4-0 with a microscopic ERA. He needs to be in the Majors. We need so much help with our ace gone and our only reliable pitcher ( Mark Redman) on the DL.

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