All-Star Cabrera Could Get Even Better With Improved Roster
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the players that are difference makers in how successful the Indians season will be.
By Craig Gifford
Since an August call up to the majors in 2007, Asdrubal Cabrera has been a mainstay with the Cleveland Indians. What has not been a mainstay is consistent, winning, big-league-caliber talent around him. Much has changed for both Cabrera and Tribe since his rookie season.
That first year with the Indians, Cabrera was a contact-hitting second baseman. The Indians got to within one win of reaching the World Series before the wheels fell off against Boston. Since then, Cabrera has transitioned back to his natural shortstop position. He has transformed himself into more of a home run, run-producing threat. He has also seen a great deal of losses pile up leading to the complete makeover of the team, leaving him as the only member left from that near-championship club.
Since 2007, Cleveland’s front office has spent quite a bit of time trading away soon-to-be free agents headed for big paydays. The team put more of a focus on developing young talent than signing Major Leaguers. That is until this past offseason when the Indians went on a spending spree.
Cabrera is now surrounded by more talent than he has seen in the lineup since his early years. Unlike the last two seasons, when the two-time all star was one of the backbones of the batting order, he’s now just one of the guys. The starting nine is as deep as it has been in years.
“He’s a pretty good player,” said Tribe manager Terry Francona “As we get better around him, you’ll see him get better. I think that’s the way a lot of players are. The more important the inning or at bat, you see his game rise a bit, which is good.”
Cabrera, whose offensive numbers have seen a large spike in production the last two years, both All-Star seasons, could have a chance to be even better this year. Slated to bat second in the order, he should see some pretty good pitches with the speedy Michael Bourn batting ahead of him and power hitters Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher batting right behind him. As hard as it is to fathom, he has a chance to be even better than his 25 homer, 92 RBI breakout campaign of 2011.
Last year, with pitchers being more cautious throwing to the 27-year-old, Cabrera’s power numbers dipped to 16 long balls and 68 runners driven in. The improved lineup should aid Cabrera in perhaps bettering his .279 career batting average.
Where Cabrera can aid himself is in not allowing a second half collapse as he has had each of the last two seasons. In 2011 and 2012, the All-Star nod was completely warranted. The shortstop made pitchers look silly as he batted near .300 in the first half of each season. The second halves, however, were like watching a different player. As if hitting a brick wall, Cabrera’s numbers trailed off significantly each of the past two years, post Mid Summer Classic.
One theory behind the second half falters has been his conditioning. He has reported to previous spring trainings overweight. His extra efforts to slim down has caught up to him by midseason and slowed him down. By all accounts, a much trimmer and prepared Cabrera showed up to camp this year. His numbers have been right around where you would like to see them for a veteran expected to be leader on the team. In 13 Cactus League games, through Wednesday, he has batted .281, with a home run and seven RBI.
The one issue for Cabrera has been a cranky back that kept him out of spring games this week. He has not played in exhibition play since last Saturday, but is expected to hit in a minor league game today with the intention of playing in the Cactus League finale tomorrow against Cincinnati. However, according to Cleveland’s medical staff and Francona, he is being held out more as a precaution. He should be good to go by Opening Day, April 2.
Cabrera should also improve simply as he ages and sees more Major League pitching. Because he was called up at a young age, people tend to forget he is still only 27. He is really just entering his prime. It was not until he was 25 that Cabrera discovered his power stroke. Even that was at the urging of former teammate and veteran Orlando Cabrera. Asdrubal still is likely to have better days ahead. A scary thought for the opposition, a warm one of the Indians and their fans.
Defensively, Cabrera and the organization is hoping he can rebound from a shaky 2012. A Gold Glove finalist in 2011, Cabrera had his worst year in the field last season since being converted to shortstop full time in 2009. He committed a career high 19 errors and had a career worst .971 field percentage. All the same, Francona is not worried. The eye test shows Cabrera still gets to a lot of tough ground balls that many players would not get a glove on.
“I think he’s very good,” the Cleveland skipper said. “Those defensive metrics are still a work in progress. They don’t take in to account a lot of factors. I think he’s a very good shortstop.”
Cabrera, despite having more talent and more veterans around him than he has in a while, will still be counted on to be a strong presence on the team. The ironic thing is, he almost was not with the Indians this year. His name was mentioned in numerous trade rumors. However, none of that came to fruition. He is still in Cleveland. Last April, he signed a two-year extension that included a team option for 2014. While he could still be traded during this season, it is doubtful. The Indians, in signing several high-priced veterans this past winter, have shown the team philosophy is now much more on winning than shaving money off the payroll. That is perhaps the biggest change Cabrera has seen since his rookie year. Contention is expected this year. Cabrera has a chance to finally get back to the postseason with the team he went there with almost six years ago.
Photo: Getty Images