02/02/2004 3:34 PM ET
Phenom Cabrera full of potential
Marlins prodigy handling success like a veteran
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- It seems to be a baseball blueprint these days.
|Miguel Cabrera is a star in Venezuela after helping the Marlins to a World Series title. (Doug Miller/MLB.com)
Make the playoffs via the Wild Card, advance to the World Series, and win in improbable, unforgettable fashion with the help of a 20-year-old from Venezuela who wasn't even in the big leagues when the season started.
The Anaheim Angels did it with reliever Francisco Rodriguez in 2002, and the Florida Marlins did it with outfielder/third baseman Miguel Cabrera in 2003.
Cabrera, like Rodriguez, is playing for the Venezuelan champion Aragua Tigers in the 2004 Caribbean Series here in Estadio Quisqueya.
Also like Rodriguez, Cabrera returned to his homeland after his whirlwind postseason ride and found that the spoils -- and trappings -- of instant success were everywhere.
Cabrera became only the fourth Venezuelan -- joining local legends Magglio Ordoñez, Andres Galarraga and Luis Sojo -- to sign a lucrative endorsement deal from the popular non-alcoholic beer Malton.
He was named "Venezuelan Sportsman of the Year."
A few days removed from pouring champagne on his Marlins teammates in the visiting clubhouse in Yankee Stadium, Cabrera was back home, watching throngs of writers and TV cameramen gather near his doorstep.
According to Buddy Bailey, Cabrera's manager on the Aragua club, the prodigy has handled everything like a pro.
"He's a very good kid who has dealt with a lot of pressure as the notoriety has just exploded in his home country," Bailey said. "Everywhere you go, it's 'Miguel, Miguel, Miguel!'
"The big leagues, the World Series, the media responsibilities ... it all makes you grow up. He's probably grown up 15 years in his last 12 months."
Cabrera's ability and potential make him seem older than his years, too.
After rising from the Double-A ranks to stick with Florida in late June, Cabrera became invaluable to his team's surge to Major League prominence.
He filled in at third base when All-Star Mike Lowell suffered a fracture in his hand, he played outfield when asked to, and he batted .268 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs over 314 at-bats in the regular season.
Stardom officially arrived for Cabrera in the National League Championship Series, when he hit .333 with three homers and six RBIs while facing a Chicago Cubs pitching staff featuring Cy Young Award candidates Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.
Then he homered off Roger Clemens in the World Series, and three days later the Marlins were champions.
Scouts marvel at his bat speed, his burgeoning power, his speed on the basepaths, his athletic 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, and his attitude.
Cabrera says he doesn't want to make any concrete projections for his career.
"I want to stay in the big leagues for a long time," Cabrera says. "I don't want to talk about numbers. I just want to go out and do it, and the numbers will happen if I work hard."
So how good can he be?
Well, for one, Bailey lauds Cabrera's "plus arm, plus instincts, heart, soul and passion to play the game."
Ordoñez, the best Venezuelan hitter in the Major Leagues right now --and one of the best ever -- says Cabrera's upside is limitless.
"He can be one of the best," Ordoñez says. "He's young, he's good, and he's already won the World Series. He already can do everything."
Bailey, who is not prone to exaggeration, puts Cabrera's potential in physical terms.
"He hasn't even filled out yet," Bailey says.
"He lost his baby fat over the course of last year, so he's cut better and he's stronger. But you really have to wait another three to five years to see what he will be from a physical standpoint. It's going to be very interesting to see what he can do then."
Perhaps Marlins manager Jack McKeon worded it the best after Game 4 of last year's World Series.
"He's one of those guys that something happens when he's at the plate, something good happens most of the time," McKeon said. "I like to find a way we can get him up every inning."
Cabrera appreciates the compliment, but he says his goals for 2004 aren't that lofty.
"I just want them to give me a chance to play every day," Cabrera says. "Everybody says the second year is difficult, but I don't think that it will be.
"I'll play the same way as last year. I'll just play hard every day."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.