tampabay.com

Cantu proved he could

By MARC TOPKIN
Published October 2, 2005


The sore wrist that suddenly kept Carl Crawford from starting the final six games will keep him from reaching some significant milestones.

He had a chance at the Rays' first 200-hit season (he has 194), at surpassing his 2004 record of 104 runs (he has 101) and at logging a third straight season of 50-plus steals (he has 46). But Crawford, with no financial incentives due to a long-term contract and with his first .300 average assured, apparently had no reason to push things.

Still, he did a lot.

But Jorge Cantu did more.

Remember, the Rays were so unconvinced Cantu was ready to play every day they signed Roberto Alomar . And when Alomar retired in the spring, they traded Jorge Sosa - that's 13-3 Jorge Sosa - to Atlanta for Nick Green .

And all Cantu has done is smash the team RBIs record with 117, hit 28 homers and rap 40 doubles as he put together one of the top five most productive seasons for a player under 24. For that, Cantu is the Rays' MVP.

And, outgoing manager Lou Piniella said, he could be more than that: "Why can't he be the All-Star second baseman of the league?"

MVP: 1. Cantu. 2. Crawford. 3. Danys Baez . Special mention: Julio Lugo .

TOP ROOKIE: Scott Kazmir 's 10-9 record, 3.77 ERA (15th best in the league) and 174 strikeouts (fourth most) have not gotten the attention they merit. Jonny Gomes ' major-league rookie high-matching 21 homers and .373 on-base percentage, and his AL rookie-leading .535 slugging percentage, have gotten more. Both deserve AL rookie of the year consideration. Long-term, Kazmir is likely to have more impact. For now, Gomes is - slightly - more impressive.

1. Gomes. 2. Kazmir. 3. Damon Hollins . Special mention: Joey Gathright / Chad Orvella .

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISES: Find the person who predicted Cantu would drive in more runs than Vladimir Guerrero , Miguel Tejada and Alfonso Soriano . 1. Cantu's production. 2. Gomes' overall contributions. 3. Mark Hendrickson 's 11 wins. Special mention: Joe Borowski 's first month.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS: The strong second half erased some bad memories, and there were plenty. Remember Danny Bautista ? Rob Bell ? Josh Phelps ? Hideo Nomo ? Of players with more relevance, it's hard to top Dewon Brazelton 's descent from opening-day starter to long reliever. 1. Brazelton. 2. Jesus Colome / Travis Harper / Lance Carter . 3. Aubrey Huff . Special mention: Piniella's departure.