Miguel Cabrera was signed by the Florida Marlins as a free agent out of Venezuela in 1999, earning a $1.8 million bonus. He made his North American debut in 2000, playing 57 games for the Gulf Coast League Marlins (.260/.344/.352) and eight games for Utica in the New York-Penn League (.250/.294/.312). His defense at shortstop wasn't great and the offensive numbers were nothing special at all, but scouts were full of praise for his offensive potential, projecting him as a big-time power hitter. I believed the scouting reports and gave him a Grade B in the 2001 book, noting his upside but that it was too early to know how he would develop for sure.
Cabrera moved up to Kane County in the Midwest League in 2001, hitting .268/.328/.382 in 110 games. Again, these numbers were nothing special, but he was just 18 years old and scouts loved him. He wasn't a walk machine, but he kept his strikeout rate reasonably low. His OPS was exactly league average, but I moved him up to a Grade B+ in the 2002 book, writing "projection is critical for players like this, and while it may take Cabrera a year or two to fully break through, I am optimistic." I had him ranked at Number 19 among hitting prospects.
Bumped up to High-A Jupiter in 2002, Cabrera hit .274/.333/.421 with 43 doubles and nine homers, 38 walks and 85 strikeouts in 489 at-bats. This was very good for the Florida State League, especially for a 19 year old. He had transitioned to third base, and scouting reports about his bat remained effusive. I gave him a Grade A- in the 2003 tome, writing that "this is a projection for me" as his skills were still in the developmental stages, but that the large number of doubles was indicating more power to come and scouts were predicting a breakout soon. I ranked him as the Number Nine hitting prospect in baseball.
Cabrera began 2003 in Double-A and the breakout happened, with a .365/.429/.609 mark in 69 games. Promoted directly to the majors, he hit .268/.325/.468 for the Marlins in 87 games, losing rookie eligibility. He hit .294/.366/.512 at age 21 the following year, and he's been one of the very best hitters in the game the last seven years.
Cabrera is a career .313/.388/.552 hitter, 145 OPS+ in 1190 games. He's remarkably consistent, averaging 34 homers a year, hitting .300+ almost every year (his worst batting average after his rookie year was .292), driving in 100+ runs every year, drawing a good number of walks, exceeding a .400 OBP three times so far, earning five All-Star nods. His career WAR so far is 37.3. Despite mediocre defense and the shift to first base, his yearly WARs are great; since his sophomore year his worst WAR mark is 3.00 and he's usually well above 5.0, exceeding 6.0 three times.
The Most Similar batters through age 27: Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Griffey Jr., Hal Trosky, Mickey Mantle, Albert Pujols, Orlando Cepeda, Al Kaline, Andruw Jones, Joe Medwick. Six of those guys are in the Hall of Fame, and Griffey and Pujols will get there. Trosky was a great hitter early in his career but had his career shortened by injuries.
I often say that "rookie ball stats aren't that predictive." In Cabrera's case, he did not dominate the low minors, putting up average numbers. However, he was young for the levels, and while he didn't draw a ton of walks, he didn't strike out that much either. His BB/K/AB ratio was acceptable...it is one thing to have 35 walks against 70 strikeouts in 400 plate appearances. It is quite another to have 30 walks and 140 strikeouts. The scouting reports and projections were always strong, and this was one case that the scouts absolutely nailed.
The question now: will his apparently serious personal problems cause his skills to slip prematurely? There is no way to answer that.