Powerhouse Pair Sets Dizzying Pace
South Florida's top tandem sets sights for playoffs, draft
MIAMI--They're running out of baseballs at Monsignor Pace High.
The school hasn't been robbed. The culprits are seniors Adrian Cardenas
and Chris Marrero, who are blasting balls with such regularity that
it's causing trouble at next-door Saint Thomas University in Opa Locka,
"We're losing baseballs every practice," pitching coach Chuck Lyman
said. "Students and teachers from Saint Thomas are getting so agitated
their cars are getting dented by home runs, they're starting to fight
back. The balls we are finding are being cut in half. The ones we
aren't finding, somebody over there is keeping."
Maybe they're keeping some as souvenirs. Any ball Cardenas or Marrero
hits over the fence these days could become a hot item on eBay one day
if their futures pan out the way some expect.
Cardenas, a 6-foot, 190-pound shortstop, had belted 13 home runs this
season--six shy of the Florida record. Marrero, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound
third baseman, has seven. Both are expected to be high draft picks in
June. And many believe they could be as talented a duo as any to ever
play together in Miami-Dade County history.
"You would be hard pressed to find a better shortstop-third baseman duo
anywhere at the high school level," said Westminster Christian coach
Bill Henderson, a first-round draft pick of the Tigers in 1987. "If you
asked me which one will go the furthest, I'd tell you Marrero. Knowing
what pro scouts are looking at, you see that body and that physique
with his baseball skills--it's a tremendous upside.
"If you ask me which guy I want on my college baseball team next year,
I'd say Cardenas. In the college game, he could wreak havoc. They're
both very, very good players."
Henderson got to see both when Monsignor Pace, then ranked No. 2 in the
Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association top
50, pounded Westminster Christian 12-0. Cardenas went 2-for-3 and hit a
360-foot line drive off the center-field wall at Florida International
University Stadium. Marrero went 3-for-3 with a 400-foot home run that
landed in FIU's soccer field.
"The only tandem that I can compare them to is when we had Alex
Rodriguez starting at shortstop and Mickey Lopez at third back in the
early '90s," Henderson said. "Everyone knows what A-Rod has done. Lopez
played at Florida State, then spent 10 years in the minors. And that
was pretty darn good."
Rodriguez is the only player in county history to be drafted with the
first overall pick. Neither Marrero or Cardenas is expected to go that
high. But Marrero, a Miami signee, is considered the best hitter in
this year's high school class, and could be taken in the top 10 picks.
Cardenas, a Florida signee who has put on one of the most impressive
hitting stretches in state history, is quickly climbing the charts as
"Marrero was already drawing 15 scouts on average for batting
practice," Spartans head coach Tom Duffin said. "The way Adrian is
playing now, scouts are telling me he could go in the first round of
the draft, too."
Cardenas took advantage of the dozens of scouts who flocked to South
Florida to see his teammate, and while he lacks the tremendous raw
power and arm strength of Marrero, he has stood out as one of few
draft-eligible position players to show significant progress from last
fall to this spring.
He was ranked No. 92 in the high school class by Baseball America
before the season, but has risen to No. 26 in the most recent rankings.
Not only did Cardenas have 13 home runs in 18 games, but he was also
batting .653 with 39 RBIs. In a two-homer effort against Belen Jesuit
of Miami, he broke the Spartans' school record for home runs in a
season (which was 10).
With three regular season games left, Cardenas, a lefthanded hitter,
not only could eclipse the Miami-Dade County record of 15 home runs
(set by Westminster Christian's Ronald Caridad in 1989), but he also
had a shot at breaking the state record of 19 (set by three players).
"What this kid is doing in a competitive state like Florida, where you
have so many first-round draft picks and players who end up in college
and in the major leagues, is not human," said Duffin, who also expects
Pace's season record batting average (.533), which he set in 1985, to
fall. "I couldn't be happier for him. He's a great kid."
Cardenas had at least two hits in all but two games this season. He
also had a stretch when he had eight home runs in eight games.
"I've always been able to hit; it's just now I'm not missing any
pitches," said Cardenas, who has added 10 pounds in the past year. "The
thing is, I also have an advantage nobody else has: I'm fortunate to
hit in front of the man."
That man-child would be Marrero, whose nickname, Nene, means baby in Spanish.
Although his numbers this season (.391-7-19) weren't as strong as
Cardenas', Marrero, who bats righthanded, has been one of the Spartans'
most consistent players. A four-year starter, he hit .440 with five
homers as a freshman, .389 with three homers as a sophomore and
.430-7-35 last year.
"I would say he might have been knocked back a little bit when Cardenas
came out as hot as he did," said a scout with a National League
organization. "He stole some of his shine.
"But what we want to see is him take it back. This kid can really hit,
and we've seen the power for a long time. I think he's probably still
the best (high school) hitter out there, it's just a matter of him
showing us he can use those tools."
Marrero's file is thick. He helped Team USA's youth squad win a silver
medal in 2004 at the Pan Am Championship in Mexico, leading the
tournament in home runs (five) and RBIs (16) while going 15-for-36. He
injured his hamstring during USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars in
Joplin, Mo., last summer, and did not join many of his former national
teammates in international competition in 2005. He recovered in time
for the Aflac All-American Classic in August, and showed some rust,
making three errors and going 1-for-4 with two RBIs.
Marrero reaffirmed his status as the class' top position player with a
strong finish to the year, though, showing off a shorter, quicker swing
in several high-profile events, including the Perfect Game World Wood
Bat Fall Championship in Jupiter, Fla., where he was ranked the No. 1
As the state playoffs drew closer, Cardenas and Marrero say leading
Pace to a state Class 4-A title is more important than draft
Despite holding the No. 1 ranking at some point in each of the past two
seasons, Pace has failed to get out of the district playoffs with
losses to sub-.500 teams, and it dropped two late-season games to fall
to No. 16 in the national poll.
The last two Pace teams featured a handful of high draft picks and more
than a dozen college signees, including Marrero's older brother
Christian, who is an outfielder at Broward County (Fla.) Community
College after being drafted by the White Sox last year. This year's
team features six Division-I signees.
"We're tired of being labeled chokers," Marrero said. "Coach deserves
for us to leave him with something more than another picture on the
wall of fame."
Manny Navarro covers high school sports for the Miami Herald.