Yesterday, we went behind the plate to talk about Travis d’Arnaud, Toronto’s catcher on helium last season. He’s gone one level per year in his ascent to the majors, and he could break in with Toronto by the end of 2012. He’s a solid all-around player who may not stand out in any area, but he’ll be good in all of them. At the time of his trade to Toronto along with Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor, he was probably considered the third prospect in the deal. Now he may have the brightest future among the trio. Today, we’re back to the Colorado organization for our second Modesto Nut of this series, changeup specialist and strikeout king Edwar Cabrera.
Edwar Cabrera, LHP, Colorado Rockies (2001: A Asheville, A+ Modesto)
Statistically, 2011 was a breakout season for Cabrera. He unseated Matt Moore as the two-time defending strikeout champion in the minors, and he wasn’t on anyone’s radar prior to the season. He started the season in low-A Asheville as a 23 year old which is old, but he came over to the United States later than most. Asheville’s a bit of a unique place in the South Atlantic League because its park favors hitters instead of the usual pitcher friendly environments. He spent half the season with the Tourists and struck out 110 batters in 86 innings with a 3.14 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
The Rockies are a very patient team in player development. It’s rare that they promote players not in the case of injuries in the middle of the season, but they did just that this year. After an outstanding first half with Modesto, Dan Houston was promoted to AA Tulsa, and Cabrera took his spot in the Nuts’ rotation. He really didn’t skip a beat. His strikeout rate actually rose from 11.5 to 11.9 per nine innings, and his hit and walk rates only increased slightly. His home run rate in the typically home run friendly Cal League actually decreased.
He finished the season with 224 strikeouts, including the seven he had in a tremendous playoff start. He could’ve had even more, but near the end of the regular season, the Rockies imposed inning limits on him to protect his arm. Despite those limitations, he still put up impressive strikeout totals not seen in years. It’s rare for even one player to strike out 200 in a season, but three did this year. A lot of years, it’s starters in the upper minors that lead the minors because they typically have fewer inning restrictions, but Cabrera did it without pitching above A-ball.
Cabrera probably surprised everyone by leading the minors, but should it have? He lead all short season pitchers in strikeouts last year, so it was just a matter of his ability translating to a tougher league, and it did. Don’t let his 1-8 record in 2010 fool you, he had a very good season. His ERA was just over 3.00, and he had a very good K:BB ratio of 3.67. This was just one season after spending half the year in the Dominican Summer League, the lowest level of competition in affiliated baseball.
How did Cabrera get it done? Unlike some previous MILB strikeout kings like Moore, Yovani Gallardo or Francisco Liriano, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff. Those three all have prototypical pitcher frames, and Cabrera is a bit on the small side at 6’0, 160, although that’s less prohibitive for lefties than righties. His fastball isn’t overpowering unlike the others as well. He has a great changeup, maybe the best in the minors, and he mixes in curveballs as well.
It’s worked for him so far, but players with great changeups tend to have success in the lower levels because a quality changeup is a pitch not many young hitters have seen. He’s not as good of a prospect as those other three were, so he’ll need to keep proving himself at the next level. In terms of prospect status, that hurts him, but it won’t prevent him from having a good minor league career. His true test will be 2012 in Tulsa. That’s when the hitters start getting more experienced, and either he has the arsenal after the changeup to survive or he won’t.
Statistically, his profile is somewhat similar to fellow Rockies Dominican pitching prospect Juan Nicasio, although the comparisons end there. Nicasio was a bit of an older prospect pitching in the Cal League in 2010, he went onto Tulsa, had success and reached the majors. Nicasio’s arsenal is different with more fastball velocity, so he has a better chance of a successful major league career. After this summer’s Ubaldo Jimenez trade, the Rockies need some starters to step up so they can return to the level they were at just a few years ago. They hope Drew Pomeranz and Alex White can be a part of that future rotation, and Cabrera could certainly join them soon.
Come back Monday for the continuation of the series. Will it be the Mets’ big shortstop, Carlos Beltran’s athletic cousin or Seattle’s powerful middle infielder?