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Willis is good but Cabs Is the Prospect


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I think its the other way around. Cabs is good and willis is the Prospect. D-Train has showed us what he has got and Cabs is just starting to Hit a Little better these final weeks.


Willis is good, but Cabrera top Marlins rookie


By Dave George, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, September 14, 2003


Russ Ortiz, the National League's winningest pitcher, never knew what hit him Saturday night, or if the pounding would ever end. He actually got a visit on the mound from Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone before a single Florida batter had been retired.


That's how you know the Marlins are becoming a genuine annoyance. More so than in 1997, really. That team was loaded with mercenary talent, and with a big-time payroll to match. The 2003 Marlins are more like the kids down the street, too noisy to ignore, too rambunctious to know when it's time to go home, too familiar for us to see just how much they are growing up right before our eyes.


Did you know, for instance, that shortstop Alex Gonzalez has a career-high 72 RBI from the No. 8 spot in Jack McKeon's lineup, or that leadoff batter Juan Pierre has more hits in a season than any player in franchise history?


And did you know, most amazing of all, that Dontrelle Willis isn't even a slam dunk as the most exciting rookie on the team anymore?


I know, that last one stings a little. Willis, who beat the first-place Braves 8-3 Saturday with six fairly mediocre innings, brought pure magic to the mound when he joined the team in May.


It's no betrayal, however, to shift a little of the attention to third baseman Miguel Cabrera, a Jupiter Hammerhead this time last year. That 20 on his back isn't just a uniform number. It's his age, too. Sometimes it shows, like when he was struggling through a 1-for-33 hitting slump at August's tail end. Sometimes it doesn't, such as when the extra-base hits start flying off his bat in bunches.


There were three of those Saturday, a first-inning home run that capped a six-run rally against Ortiz, plus two doubles. In all, 34 of Cabrera's 69 hits this season have gone for extra bases, beginning with the 11th-inning home run he hit to beat Tampa Bay in his June 20 major-league debut. The Venezuelan also has 53 RBI in what amounts to half a season.


Let's take it one step further, this tribute to a fresh talent who came up strictly through the Marlins' farm system and not down through the free-agent money chute. If Mike Lowell were able to return for a Marlins post-season that seems increasingly likely, it shouldn't be Cabrera who sits down. Trusty veteran Jeff Conine would do the team more good by vacating left field if nothing changes, and letting M.C. hammer away into October.


"I feel good when I step to the plate," Cabrera said, "and I carry it with me through the whole game. When runners are on base, in some way it helps me to concentrate. It's all gone very quickly for me. Thank God I got the chance to play this year."


Thank McKeon, too, for teaching his rookies that a playoff run is as good a place as any for a little on-the-job training. Saturday night, an enormous crowd of 40,414, the largest for a Marlins home game in two seasons, reveled in the promotional giveaway of a bobble-head doll. The bouncy figure inside the box was a representation of Craig Counsell, a rookie himself during the Marlins' World Series year and the player who had the thrill of scoring the trophy-clinching run in the 11th inning of Game 7.


"Miguel and Dontrelle simply have the mental toughness that enables them to jump into that big role and not be intimidated by it," McKeon said. "It's unique to have two guys like that on one team."


And quite commonplace, it seems, for Florida to rip off seven straight wins every now and then. The Marlins are growing up, all right, and even the mighty Braves and the fading Phillies seem unsure what to do about it.



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