Not a Rookie: Everth Cabrera
San Diego Padres infielder Everth Cabrera was one of the more successful Rule 5 picks in recent years, having a sound 2009 rookie season. What was he like as a prospect, and what does the future hold?
Everth Cabrera was signed by the Colorado Rockies as a free agent out of Nicaragua in 2004. He didn't make his North American debut until 2006, when he hit .254/.382/.297 in 54 games for Casper in the Pioneer League at age 19. On the positive side, he swiped 18 bases in 25 attempts and drew 37 walks, but he collected just six extra-base hits and provided virtually no power. He drew good reviews for his defense at second base, but without more punch with the bat, there wasn't much else that stood out about him. I did not put him in the 2007 book, but would have rated him as a Grade C prospect if I had.
Cabrera moved up to Tri-City in the Northwest League in 2007, hitting .300/.432/.413 in 42 games, with 12 steals in 17 attempts, 27 walks and 24 strikeouts in 150 at-bats. He showed a bit more pop (raising his ISO from .043 to .113) and continued to draw walks, but he still didn't stand out as a huge prospect. I wrote a comment about him for the 2008 book, rating him as a Grade C prospect with interesting speed and patience but needing data from higher levels. The comment got cut for space reasons.
Assigned to Class A Asheville in the Sally League for 2008, Cabrera hit .284/.361/.399 with 73 steals in 89 attempts, 51 walks, and 101 strikeouts in 479 at-bats. He was named the Fastest Baserunner and Best Baserunner (they aren't the same thing) by Sally League managers in the Baseball America poll. His ISO remained steady at .115, but his strikeout rate took a big spike upward, and scouts were concerned he swung for the fences too often. He split the season between shortstop and second base and drew positive reviews at both positions. The Rockies did not protect him on the 40-man roster, and the Padres swooped in to claim him in the Rule 5 draft. I gave him a Grade C in the book last year, projecting him as a utility infielder but doubting that he would see much playing time. Most people didn't expect him to stick on the roster.
Cabrera stuck on the roster and ended up seeing considerable playing time, hitting .255/.342/.361 in 103 games, 377 at-bats. He stole 25 bases in 33 attempts (making him attractive to fantasy owners), and maintained a similar ISO to what he showed in the minors at .106.
My guess is that what you see is what you get on offense: he's a .250-.270ish hitter with a decent OBP, sub .400 power, but enough walks and speed to hold a job as long as his fielding is solid. He's 23 this year, and given a normal age curve there is a chance his power could increase a bit more, though I expect this would show up as more doubles and triples than homers.
His defense is an interesting issue. He draws positive comment, but the more sophisticated metrics aren't impressed with him: -15.9 UZR/150, -8 runs according to Fielding Bible, 97 BP rate number, -9.5 Total Zone. His fielding percentage was .951 compared to the league average of .975, although his RF/9 was slightly above average. Basically the numbers indicate that he was a below average defender last year, although I think we need more than one year of data to conclude that fully. His Total Zone Ratings in the minor leagues were slightly above average at second base but just average at shortstop, and in the end he may end up back at the keystone.
Overall, despite the defensive questions, I think we have to be impressed by what Cabrera did last year. He jumped from the South Atlantic League to the National League at age 22 and held his own, providing speed and showing some on-base ability. If he can build on that, he will be seeing his name on Major League rosters for the next decade.