Long on talent, short on experience

Originally Published: April 18, 2006
By Enrique Rojas | ESPNdeportes.com

MIAMI -- Hanley Ramirez admits he wears No. 2 in honor of his idol, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

First baseman Mike Jacobs nicknamed John Patterson's curve "Bugs Bunny" after the Nationals right-hander struck out 13 Marlins.

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Nine Latin Americans -- including seven players from the Dominican Republic -- have made their major league debuts this season.

Seven of the nine are pitchers, with six from the Dominican: RHPs Fausto Carmona (Indians), Ramon Ramirez (Rockies), Sendy Rleal (Orioles), Carlos Martinez (Marlins), Ruddy Lugo (Devil Rays) and LHP Fabio Castro (Rangers).

Braves SS Tony Peña Jr. is the other Dominican rookie; Puerto Rican OF Angel Pagan (Cubs) and RHP Fernando Nieve (Astros) are the other Latin Americans.

Overall, 30 players have made their big league debuts this season (entering play April 15). Aside from the nine Latins, there have been three other foreign-born rookies: Mariners C Kenji Johjima (Japan), Dodgers RHP Takashi Saito (Japan) and Braves RHP Peter Moylan (Australia).

The Dominican Republic leads foreign countries with 426 major leaguers since 1956.

Before that game, rookie manager Joe Girardi had his players working on their fielding for three hours.

These are the 2006 Marlins -- a group of talented, inexperienced and happy youngsters who arrived from around the world and developed in various major league organizations -- and they are ready to hone their craft.

Florida has 12 rookies on its 25-man roster and had six rookies in its starting lineup on Opening Day, an all-time record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Five players -- second baseman Dan Uggla, outfielders Eric Reed and Reggie Abercrombie and pitchers Carlos Martinez and Ricky Nolasco -- made their big league debuts this season.

Only outfielder/catcher Josh Willingham and Dominican catcher Miguel Olivo were born before 1980.

The team's best hitter and team leader is third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who will turn 23 on Tuesday.

Dontrelle Willis, 24, a three-year "veteran," won 22 games in 2005 and leads the rotation.

"It's a strange situation, but we need to be ready and just play," said Cabrera, who batted .323 with 33 home runs and 116 RBI in 2005. He has 80 home runs and 299 RBI since 2003.

"Miguel is a well-respected guy in the league, and that takes a lot of pressure off us," said Willingham, a 27-year-old Alabama native picked by the Marlins in the 2000 draft.

Willingham leads the team with 11 RBI and is tied with Jacobs, a 25-year-old Californian who arrived from the Mets, with three home runs.

"We need to be ready," said Ramirez, the 22-year-old slugger who arrived in Florida in the trade that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Red Sox. "Fields are faster and hitters are stronger in the major leagues."

Ramirez hit safely in his first eight games of the season and then went nine at-bats without a hit before connecting for a single against Washington on Sunday. The Dominican native is batting .333, with 14 hits and 10 runs.

"I have felt pretty comfortable during my first two weeks in the majors, and I'm trying to avoid putting too much pressure on myself," Ramirez said.

Florida has a 3-8 record, which puts them on track to lose 100 games for the second time in franchise history. The Marlins lost four of their first five games on the road -- before arriving home for a six-game series -- and four of their first seven losses were by one run.

Joe Girardi
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty ImagesRookie skipper Joe Girardi -- the seventh manger for the Fish -- is up for the challenge.
"We are going to lose some close games, but fans have to be sure that we'll bring our best game every night," Girardi said.

Florida went 54-108 in 1998, a year after winning its first World Series. Management dismantled that talented team for financial reasons.

The 2006 team, which has a $15 million payroll (lowest in the league), does not want to hear about the past.

"I'm having fun," said outfielder Jeremy Hermida, 22. "It's a dream come true."

Willingham, Reed, Chris Aguila and Abercrombie will share time in the outfield.

"Nobody has a sure spot," said Reed, 25. "We need to win our playing time."

These are exciting times.

"I dreamt about the majors and meeting Derek Jeter," Ramirez said. "Now that I'm here, I'm not going to worry and put extra pressure on myself."

The new Marlins might be inexperienced, but they are talented and plan on having fun this summer.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.