Uggla's breakout rookie year long time in the making
Posted: Wednesday September 20, 2006 11:52AM; Updated: Wednesday September 20, 2006 2:41PM
Though a rookie, Dan Uggla is the senior member of an infield that's kept Florida in the playoff hunt longer than most expected.
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Dan Uggla never was a can't-miss prospect. He never was a phenom. No grizzly old scout ever looked at him, back in his high school days in middle Tennessee, and said, "That kid's got 'major leagues' written all over him."
And yet here's the solidly built, plain-spoken, hardworking second baseman of the Marlins, in the final weeks of his team's improbably charmed season, looking like -- a whole lot like, in my eyes -- the National League's Rookie of the Year.
You have to shake your head at the mere possibility of it. Uggla is shaking his.
"Obviously, everyone is like, 'Ohhh, what do you think of the Rookie of the Year?'" Uggla said one recent Sunday morning before a game -- and by "everyone," of course, he means guys like me who constantly ask him about his ROY aspirations. "First things first: playoffs, hopefully. Then after the season is over, I might think about who the rookie of the year might be."
What are Uggla's chances of becoming the Marlins' second Rookie of the Year (after Dontrelle Willis, in 2003)? The fact is, no rookie in the league has made an impact so great this year as to blow away the competition. Uggla's in the running -- that's why everyone asks him about it -- but so are a bunch of his teammates, including speedy shortstop Hanley Ramirez, slugging outfielder Josh Willingham and pitchers Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen. Even pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who threw a no-hitter a few weeks ago,will get some consideration.
Then there's Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, Giants pitcher Matt Cain, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier ... there are a lot of choices.
When the votes come in, though, Uggla should be at the top for one simple reason: He's having a heck of a year, a historically good one for a rookie second baseman.
It doesn't hurt that he's such an unlikely story, either.
Uggla is 26, several years older than most everyone else on the rookie list. He wasn't drafted out of high school, so he finagled his way into playing baseball at a lower-tier Division I school (Memphis), where he wailed away for a couple of uninspired years before a breakout junior season finally got him drafted. The Diamondbacks took the chance, picking him in the 11th round in 2001, No. 388 overall.
He spent five seasons punching around the minors, from Yakima to El Paso to Kodak, Tenn., with moderately increasing success. Giving up didn't really cross his mind. He progressed through the Diamondbacks' system, with a good year at Class A Lancaster (Calif.) in '03 and another good one last year with the Double A Tennessee Smokies. Once, in the offseason, he took a bartending class -- just in case he needed to make some money somewhere down the line. But the majors were still his only goal.