Marlins' Villanueva Continues Unlikely Rise





JUPITER, Fla. Elih Villanueva grew up admiring Josh Beckett and Greg Maddux. As far as pitching styles, he fancies himself somewhere in between, but he's considerably more reminiscent of the latter.

The Marlins' minor league pitcher of the year in 2010, Villanueva paced the Double-A Southern League in numerous categories, including innings pitched (179), complete games (four), shutouts (three), WHIP (0.96) and opponent average (.212).

He did it without the benefit of a plus pitch. In spite of his results, 24-year-old strike throwers generally don't rank high on any prospect lists. That's fine with Villanueva.

"I love it," said Villanueva, a 27th-round pick out of Florida State in 2008. "I read some stuff and my wife is always telling me, 'Get off of that.' She gets upset just because of the success I've had. I enjoy it because it's always, 'He doesn't have this. He doesn't have that. We'll see how he does in this level.'  

"I look at it as I'm going to have to prove myself at every level. I'm completely fine with that."

Villanueva points to the development of his slider as a key to garnering Southern League all-star nods for both the regular and postseason. By his eighth or ninth start, Villanueva consistently was throwing it in the zone or burying it to get swings and misses en route to finishing 14-4, 2.26 for Jacksonville.

An inconsistent pitch for Villanueva in 2009, the slider now is his dominant breaking pitch. He has not abandoned the curve, which he'll still use in any situation.

"Being able to throw all four for a strike ahead or behind in the count helps me expand the zone and turn that 89-90 (mph) into what looks like 92-93," Villanueva said. "That's the type of guy I am, control and being able to place a ball where I want and mix speeds since I don't really have that mid-90s fastball."

FISH BITES

• Shortstop prospect Ozzie Martinez was in spring training and saw his first game action at second base since 2006 in rookie ball. Assuming he starts the season at Triple-A New Orleans, Martinez will split time between second, short and third.

• Righthanders Dallas Trahern and Kris Harvey, both of whom missed all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, should be ready to join their respective affiliates at the start of the season.