With the Yankees’ gluttonous international free agency spending spree in the 2014 season, in which they spent around $17 million dollars on some of the top prospects in the market, penalties were imposed on their spending for the next season. Restricted to a maximum of $300,000 per signing for the 2015 period, the team was forced to keep a low profile as others freely spent millions of dollars on players.
It turns out that may not have been the worst thing for them. After signing the Venezuelan-native Cabrera for a mere $100,000, the shortstop has put together a rookie campaign that has forced the organization and its fans to take notice. After he hit .441/.487/.647 through 19 games in the Dominican Summer League, Cabrera was quickly called up to the Gulf Coast League. He only continued his stellar production there, hitting .455/.471/.818 in seven games, and was once again promoted to Advanced Rookie affiliate Pulaski. If your rookie season is where you’re supposed to find your footing, Cabrera has been an exception so far.
“Perfect,” said Cabrera to PinstripesPlus about his time in the DSL, with the help of a translator. “It was great because everything was working. I was hitting and I was playing great defense.”
Even with his domination of two leagues, count Cabrera amongst those who did not expect this kind of season from him.
“[I] didn’t think it was going to go very easily. [I] never think like that,” he explained. “[I] never thought [I’d] be moving up so early. I could have never imagined it. My mind was always just on playing.”
It was hard even for coaches at different levels not to see the kind of season Cabrera was having.
“’Ozzy’? He’s a special player,” claimed Pulaski hitting coach Kevin Mahoney. “He deserved the promotions for what he was doing, especially down in the Dominican Summer League. He got a chance to play in the GCL and raked there and got the call up. What he did at 17 is special. I don’t know if I played with anyone who did that.”
“He was pretty hot when he came up here, from what I understand. I mean, that’s the reason why he got promoted up here,” said Pulaski manager Tony Franklin.
The reports on Cabrera offensively will tell you that he has a good bat – much like his older brother Leobaldo, currently part of the Yankees’ GCL set up. While Leobaldo is a right-handed batter, Oswaldo is a switch hitter, and has had no problems hitting from either side. His spray charts also show an ability to hit to all fields, and hit to them with power.
Defensively, Cabrera is listed as a shortstop. With fellow international prospect Wilkerman Garcia plugging up that spot in Pulaski, Cabrera has been playing second base since his call up, something he said he is more than comfortable doing. With his bat and versatility up the middle, his new coaches are pleased with the player they’ve gotten.
“The kid’s a pretty good player,” Franklin said. “He can play second, he can play short, and that’s okay with me. He’s versatile and he’s a switch-hitter. He’s doing well.”
“He looks great. He’s a good player,” Mahoney added. “17 years old competing at this level is impressive. He continues to show he can hit it and he can make a play.”
The early going in Pulaski has been rough for Cabrera, depending on how much stock you put into the numbers, with a .227 batting average and a .610 OPS. But Franklin isn’t one to put too much faith into those statistics.
“I don’t get that caught up in the numbers. That’s for other people to talk about, the numbers,” he explained. “I think our job here is much more than the numbers itself. It’s about progress on a daily basis, how much they’re learning, what they are gaining knowledge about, how to become a better hitter, defensive player, base runner.
"I think that’s what we’re trying to do here at this level and you hope by the end of the season the numbers will kind of bare those things out. A lot of times they don’t but all the work you put in this with these youngsters might not show up until next year. We’ll find out actually where they stand in Spring Training next year.”
His efforts to adjust so far could come down to an underestimated and even over-looked aspect for a new player in the Appalachian League – playing under the lights.
“[I’ve] never played under the lights,” Cabrera explained.
Coming from the tropical and sunny climates of the DSL and GCL, where games start at 10:30 and 10 o’clock in the morning, respectively, moving to the 7 p.m. start times of the Appalachian League can cause issues. While late summer sunsets allow the early innings to be played in the sunlight, the lights are turned on during the middle to later innings as the games go on.
“Getting used to the lights. That’s it really,” Mahoney said of Cabrera’s biggest adjustment.
Outside of that, the usual adjustments of all lower-level minor league players apply.
“Well he’s not hitting consistently, and that’s the case for a lot of guys here, they’re not consistent performers yet,” Franklin explained. “If they were consistent they’d be miles away from here. But I think that’s the goal here is to get them to be consistent, and they will once play to their ability with less doubt in their mind, and hopefully we can do that this season. Explain some things better to them, hopefully they understand what it takes to be a consistent player.”
As always, with experience comes better results.
“Yeah, he’s playing just fine. Like you said the numbers aren’t there yet but if he gets 200 at-bats in this league he’s going to be just fine,” predicted Mahoney.
And if you know Tony Franklin, you know his lack of concern with struggles at this level.
“He’s a good player. People who come to these ball games, whether it be in Pulaski or Johnson City or Elizabethton, they know a good baseball player when they see one. I hope I know a good baseball player when I see one because I think he’s a good player,” Franklin said.
At 17 years old and already playing advanced rookie ball, it’s easy to be cautious when evaluating a player at this level with the extreme youth that Cabrera has. For Franklin though, it’s all about whether the kid can play.
“He’s what, 17? Geez. Holding his own I’d say. He should be in science class,” joked Franklin. “But he’s a good baseball player, and like most of the youngsters in this league there’s still a lot to learn and a lot of maturing to do, and I think he’ll do it.
“A good baseball player is a good baseball player, whether he’s 17 or 27,” Franklin continued. “But like I said you’ll see the consistency factor in. You project as much as you can, and you project this kid’s going to be good. He can run, he can throw, he can hit, and he can hit from both sides.”
To the question of how far Cabrera will go, Franklin says only time will tell.
“It’s a game that takes time, levels take time, and this is why we give them the chance to play 140-plus games during the minor league season. This is a good start at 60-plus games and we’ll see where he lands in the next couple of seasons,” Franklin said. “Usually when they get to Double-A you have a pretty good idea of where they'll end up. I think if he gets to Double-A he’s got a pretty good chance.”
As for Cabrera himself, he seems to be enjoying his rookie debut. With the confidence of his two promotions, he is not bothered by his start in Pulaski, and with the season winding down, his focus is on getting used to his new team.
“[I’m] comfortable and get along with all [my] teammates, so [I’m] doing well,” he said. “[I] never thought [I’d] have such a good season. Everything is going well.”