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Berardino on the Rookie Race

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Marlins likely to dominate rookie voting

Florida could even sweep top 3 NL spots

By Mike Berardino

Tribune Newspapers: South Florida Sun-Sentinel


September 24, 2006


Dontrelle Willis rarely throws his weight around. But when it comes to National League Rookie of the Year balloting, he sounds ready to make an exception.


"I'm a pretty easygoing guy, but it would be really hard for me not to see the rookie of the year come out of South Florida," said the Marlins ace and winner of top rookie honors in 2003.


There's no shortage of qualified candidates:


- Second baseman Dan Uggla (26 homers) recently knocked ex-Yankees great Joe Gordon out of the record book. Gordon's rookie homer record for the position had stood since 1938.


- Shortstop Hanley Ramirez has scored 111 runs and is closing in on 50 stolen bases. He also has 24 errors but has shown tremendous range.


- Right-hander Josh Johnson has built a 12-7 record and spent much of the year in the top three of the league ERA standings.


- Left fielder Josh Willingham, still a rookie at 27 despite two previous trips to the majors, had the highest OPS (.871) among NL rookies with enough plate appearances to qualify.


Not only are the Marlins in line to claim their second rookie honor from the Baseball Writers Association of America, they might sweep the top three spots.


"Florida has an embarrassment of riches in the rookie race," said Jack Magruder of the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune, who holds a rookie vote.


Just once since the rookie award was instituted in 1947 has a single team swept the top three spots. The 1960 Orioles had AL winner Ron Hansen as well as Chuck Estrada and Jim Gentile, who tied for second.


"The decision for me probably will come down to Uggla or Ramirez," Marc Lancaster of the Cincinnati Post said. "Add in the Marlins' pitchers, and it's difficult to imagine many players from other teams finding a way into the top three."


Trouble is, this is perhaps the deepest NL rookie field in history. Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, Giants right-hander Matt Cain and the Dodgers trio of outfielder Andre Ethier, catcher Russell Martin and closer Takashi Saito all figure to receive votes.


There's also Pirates reliever Matt Capps, Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, Padres teammates Cla Meredith and Josh Barfield and Diamondbacks first baseman Conor Jackson.


"It seems to change by the week, if not every few days," said Braves beat writer Travis Haney of Morris News Service.


Similar sentiments came from many of the 14 voters of 32 total contacted for a survey.


Every voter contacted mentioned Uggla among his top few candidates, with 11 of the 14 placing him either first or second. Ramirez and Johnson were well behind in early support but appear to have the best chance of hitting the board with Uggla.


Outside of South Florida, the top rookie threat appears to be Zimmerman, who had driven in 99 runs and was hitting .282 while playing first-rate defense. Half of those surveyed listed Zimmerman first or second.


Said Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: "I would imagine the votes are going to be pretty spread out. It's a quagmire."

Copyright ? 2006, The Chicago Tribune


As of late last week Uggla was in the lead. I would vote for Hanley.

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