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Dontrelle Wayne Willis graduated from Encinal (CA) High School in 2000. That same year, he was named California High School Player of the Year after going 10-1 with a 0.70 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 70.0 innings.
On June 5, 2000, Dontrelle was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 8th round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft. That year, he went 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Of his nine appearances, only one was a start.
In 2001, Willis pitched for single-A Boise in the Northwest League. In 15 starts, he went 8-2 with a 2.98 ERA and was named to the Northwest League All-Star team. He was selected by Baseball America as the sixth-best prospect in the Northwest League.
After being traded to the Florida Marlins on March 27, 2002, Dontrelle enjoyed a fantastic season in the minors. He was named Sports Weekly's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He was also selected to the Midwest League All-Star Game. In 24 combined starts, he posted a 12-2 record and a 1.83 ERA and was named the fourth-best prospect in the Marlins' farm system.
After being called up to the Florida Marlins on May 9, Willis set the single-season club record for victories with 14. In 27 starts, he went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA, was selected to the NL All-Star Team (as a replacement for the injured Kevin Brown), and was named the National League Rookie of the Year.
DONTRELLE WILLIS' MAJOR LEAGUE FIRSTS:
- STRIKEOUT - Preston Wilson on May 9, 2003.
- VICTORY - vs. San Diego Padres on May 14, 2003.
- COMPLETE GAME SHUTOUT - vs. New York Mets on June 16, 2003.
- LOSS - vs. Montreal Expos on May 20, 2003.
- HOMERUN (as a batter) - vs. Cincinnati's Danny Graves on May 31, 2003.
In the 2003 playoffs, Willis was shifted to the bullpen by Florida manager Jack McKeon after two disastrous starts. Combined between the NLDS (vs. the San Francisco Giants) and the NLCS (vs. the Chicago Cubs), Willis posted a record of 0-1 with a 12.00 ERA in 9 innings. Out of the bullpen in the World Series vs. the New York Yankees, however, he posted an ERA of 0.00, allowing only 4 hits and striking out 3 in 3.2 innings.
Although he started the season strong (3-0, 0.00 ERA in 19.1 innings over 5 starts), 2004 saw a bit of a regression for Willis, as he posted a 10-11 record and a 4.02 ERA. He finished second on the team (to Carl Pavano) in strikeouts with 139.
His bat may have been the best part of his game in 2004. Twice, he went 3-3 at the plate and posted a hit in seven straight plate appearances - the second longest such streak for a pitcher since 1974. He went 3-8 on the year as a pinch-hitter, collecting the most pinch-hits as a pitcher since 1987.
In a return to form, Willis established himself as one of the best young pitchers in baseball in 2005. He finished second in the voting for the Cy Young Award to St. Louis' Cris Carpenter. Willis posted a 22-10 record and a 2.63 ERA. He led MLB in victories and shutouts (5), and tied Carpenter for the most complete games (7). The 2.63 ERA was MLB's third-best mark (behind Roger Clemens' 1.87 and Andy Pettitte's 2.39). His 22 victories also established the Marlins franchise single-season record. He became the youngest lefty to win 20 games in a season since Vida Blue in 1971. He was selected to his second All-Star Game appearance.
He also had a great year at the plate (for a pitcher) as he recorded 24 hits for a .261 batting average. He set Marlins single-season records for RBI by a pitcher (11), runs by a pitcher (14), as well as hits. He recorded five multi-hit games. And on September 17 vs. the Phillies, Willis batted eighth - just the second time in six years that a starting pitcher had batted higher than ninth in the batting order. And on September 22 vs. the Mets, Willis batted seventh - the highest point in a batting order that a pitcher had hit since 1973.
- Selected by Chicago Cubs in the 8th round of the free-agent draft (June 5, 2000 - signed July 6, 2000).
- Traded by Chicago Cubs with Julian Tavarez, Jose Cueto and Ryan Jorgensen to Florida Marlins in exchange for Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement (March 27, 2002).