A few years ago, when he was playing in the lower reaches of the Phillies' minor league system, Jimmy Rollins was told by a coach that one day he would be a better hitter than Larry Bowa was. Bowa, a five-time All-Star shortstop in the 1970s who anchored Philadelphia's infield for 12 seasons, was no Ted Williams, but he finished in the National League top 10 in hits four times. "I'd never heard of him," says Rollins, 22, the Phillies' second-round pick in the '96 draft. Now Bowa is his manager.
Philadelphia's third Opening Day shortstop in five seasons and an early Rookie of the Year candidate, Rollins is also blissfully unaware of the Phillies' dismal recent history at his position. "The only time I thought about who else played shortstop was..." he says, trailing off. "Actually never."
The 5'8", 165-pound Rollins hit .321 and made only one error in 14 September games last season, and he impressed the Philadelphia brass with his confidence this spring. Says Bowa, "He handled himself from the start of spring as if the starting job was his."
Philadelphia is counting on Rollins to jump-start its offense as well as plug the hole at short. A switch hitter with speed—he stole at least 20 bases in four minor league seasons—and some pop (12 homers in Triple A in 2000), he has settled in as the number 2 hitter in the order. "He's most productive when he's hitting the ball on the ground or for line drives and using his speed," says Bowa. "I don't want him thinking he's a home run hitter."
Bowa says Rollins still has much to learn defensively but sees great promise in him. "Hopefully," says Bowa, setting an ambitious goal, "he'll be here as long as I was."