Cabrera making up for lost time

APPLETON, Wisc. - When a team signs a player as a non drafted free-agent, they never know exactly how he will pan out. Sometimes the player lasts a week, sometimes a month. Other times, he maintains mediocrity for a few seasons before calling it quits. Or, less often, as in the case of Asdrubal Cabrera, a player becomes one of the premier young prospects in the organization.

After signing in August of 2002, the Mariners sent the switch-hitting middle infielder to the Venezuelan Summer League, where he played for Aguirre. He was promoted to Everett in 2004, where he finished the season with a respectable .272 average.

Cabrera was then promoted to his current club, the Mid-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, where, from the looks of it, he was primed for a big season. In the first game of 2005, Cabrera was 2-3, looking every bit like the player Rattler manager Scott Steinmann knew he could be.

"He's a smart player and, being a switch-hitter, he adds a different dimension to our ball club that we don't have without him," Steinmann said.

But the promise so many had seen in spring training would have to wait. While returning to second base during the 8th inning of the opener, Cabrera collapsed, clutching his ankle.

Doctors set a return timetable at 4-to-6 weeks, and it looked like the Rattlers would be without one of their promising youngsters for an extended period of time. But, just 17 games later, Cabrera returned, going 2-4 with a home run and a single in a 5-3 loss to Beloit.

When asked about his reaction to his early return, Cabrera kept things simple, saying, "My leg felt good. It was good to be back on the field with the guys."

The feeling, by all accounts, is mutual. After all, who on the team could complain about Cabrera's offensive output? The Venezuelan is 20-for-56 in the 13-game span since his return.

Swinging the hot bat, Cabrera has been one of the few bright spots for the Rattlers team that has struggled since the start of May. Since returning, Cabrera has been sizzling, not just at the plate but also in the field. His defense has been stellar, coming in the always tough middle infield; Cabrera has yet to commit an error.

But now with Cabrera, Oswaldo Navarro, and top tier prospects Matt Tuiasosopo and Yung-Chi Chen all available as a middle-infielder, the problem becomes an abundance of bodies for a limited number of positions. Does this pose a problem for Rattlers' first-year manager Scott Steinmann?

"It's a good problem to have, and these guys are all smart ball-players," said Steinmann. "So it's easy to shuffle them around the infield so they can learn the game from each position."

A good problem, indeed. Joining the likes of the previously mentioned Navarro, Tuiasosopo, and Chen; Cabrera gives the Rattlers a middle-infield loaded with enough talent to furnish multiple teams in the Mariners' system.

And that thought doesn't seem to be far off, for if Cabrera continues at the pace he is currently setting, the Mariners could very likely call on the 19 year-old to test his talents in the higher levels of the minors.

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