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Cabs has everyone Talking


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Good article


Cabrera a find

Twenty-year-old Florida rookie has everyone talking





MIAMI -- We came to south Florida to see the future. And we were not disappointed. Left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis is the real deal.


Willis won his 13th game Saturday for the Florida Marlins and is a marvel to watch for he's an enthusiast, which so few players are nowadays.


Yet, the discovery of this trip, which ranks somewhere behind what explorer Ponce de Leon found, is Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera, 20. It's debatable as to who is the Marlins' most exciting rookie, Cabrera or Willis.


"Cabrera might be another Vladimir Guerrero," said Cookie Rojas, the Marlins' Spanish broadcaster. Rojas was the bench coach under Buck Martinez for 1 1/2 years when the latter managed the Blue Jays.


Rojas has been in majors in one form or another as a player, manager, coach or broadcaster since 1962. He's qualified to make a comparison -- and he doesn't toss around compliments like the Jays throw the ball around after a Roy Halladay strikeout.


Guerrero will be the most highly pursued free agent this winter when he leaves the Montreal Expos.


Cabrera, a native of Maracay, Venezuela, is an emerging star, eligible to play because of his talent but ineligible to drink in some states. How many other big leaguers wear their age on the back of their uniforms?


A year ago, Cabrera was with the Jupiter Hammerheads in the class-A Florida State League. He started 2003 with the double-A Carolina Mudcats, where he hit .365 with 10 homers and 59 RBIs in 69 games.


Cabrera made his major-league debut with the Marlins on June 20 and touched Tampa Bay Devil Rays reliever Al Levine with a game-winning homer, becoming the sixth youngest hitter in major-league history to hit a home run in his first game.


"He has the speed, the power and the hitting eye unusual for a young hitter," Rojas said. "Double his figures and see what he has for a full season. And consider he's doing it for a club that is playing in September when every game means something."


In 74 games, Cabrera is hitting .262 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs. Under Rojas' calculations that comes out to 20 homers and 106 RBIs.


As they used to say about Wayne Gretzky: "And ... he's still only 20."


Just nine players age 20 or younger with at least 134 plate appearances have slugged for a higher percentage than Cabrera. Six of those players made the Hall of Fame (Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle), while Alex Rodriguez is headed for Cooperstown. The other two were Bob Horner and Tony Conigliaro.


The Marlins knew about Cabrera and his promise. It's why they wanted to deal third baseman Mike Lowell before he broke loose with a 35-homer season.


Lowell is now injured. When he returns, the Marlins can put Lowell at third, move Cabrera, a natural shortstop, to left and Jeff Conine to the bench.


All Cabrera did on the weekend against the Braves was:


- Singled twice on Sunday against right-hander Shane Reynolds and chased Andruw Jones to the track in right centre.


- Hit a three-run homer Saturday against right-hander Russ Ortiz, making his first bid for his 20th win. The homer was an outside pitch Cabrera took to right in the first inning. Then, he doubled to left on an 94-m.p.h. Ortiz fastball and next time up doubled to left centre against reliever Jason Marquis.


"We pitched him away, we pitched him inside and we didn't get him out," Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "You could say we weren't sure where to pitch him."


- Doubled and singled on Friday in Florida's come-from-behind win against Mike Hampton.


"This has all gone very quickly for me, I'm able to feel good at the plate and carry it through the whole game," said Cabrera, who has 14 hits in his past 38 at-bats (.368).


Said Marlins manager Jack McKeon: "Both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis simply have the mental toughness that enables them to jump into the big leagues from double-A and not be intimidated. It's unique to have one guy like that on a ball club, never mind two."

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