Not a Rookie: Asdrubal Cabrera
Asdrubal Cabrera was signed by the Mariners out of Venezuela in 2002. Defense was his calling card: scouts projected him as an excellent gloveman with a chance to hit pretty well. He made it to North America in 2004, hitting .272/.330/.427 in 63 games for Everett in the Northwest League at age 19. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2005 book, writing that Cabrera "was a tabula rosa right now: he has immense potential, but could develop in any number of directions."
The Mariners were aggressive with Cabrera in 2005. He began at Wisconsin in the Midwest League, where he hit .318/.407/.474 in 51 games. Promoted to Inland Empire, he hit .284/.325/.418 in 55 games. He even got into six Triple-A games, hitting .217/.250/.304. Scouts continued to praise his defense, and it was clear he had some offensive potential, notably decent plate discipline. I gave him a Grade B, writing that I liked him a lot and that if he kept the hitting going at higher levels, he would be very valuable.
Seattle bumped Cabrera to Triple-A in 2006. Not surprisingly, he struggled, hitting just .236/.323/.360 in 60 games and looking rather overmatched much of the time. He was traded to the Indians for Eduardo Perez. Cleveland assigned him to Triple-A Buffalo, where he hit .263/.295/.337 in 52 games. He continued to draw raves for his glovework, but the hitting was obviously not very good. However, given his age (20) and lack of Double-A experience, this was hardly damning. I gave him a Grade C+ in the '07 book, but noted because he was so young he still had time to rebound.
The Indians sent him to Double-A to begin '07, perhaps to help him regain lost confidence. He exploded with a .310/.383/.454 performance in 96 games for Akron, with a fine 45/42 BB/K ratio in 368 at-bats. He hit .316 in nine games for Buffalo, then moved up to Cleveland and hit .283/.354/.421 in 45 contests, showing impressive glovework at second base and obviously a fine bat.
What should we expect?
Cabrera is still just 22 years old. I don't think what he did last year was a fluke. He has good plate discipline, and while he won't be a big home run guy, he has enough pop in his bat that the pitchers have to respect him. Defensively he is excellent at both shortstop and second base in my opinion, and there's no reason for that not to continue. The metrics back this up.
In the short run, here are some projections for 2008:
Weighted Mean PECOTA: .266/.326/.388
These aren't terrific short-term offensive numbers of course, but given his age, decent plate discipline, and his defense, I'm still optimistic about how he will pan out in the long run. My thinking is that he'll put up the numbers we see above in '08 and '09, then have a breakout in '10 and a strong run through his late 20s.
The thing that could slow him down would be injuries, nagging or otherwise: middle infielders, especially second baseman, take some physical abuse and don't always develop along a normal curve, the Brent Gates/Carlos Febles Effect if you will. That's Cabrera's main risk.