Next Cubs Call-up? It could be Alberto Cabrera

First we had the Anthony Rizzo watch.  Then he got called up.

Then we had the Brett Jackson watch.  But he has struggled to make consistent contact.

Most recently it's been the Josh Vitters watch.  But despite his improvement, the Cubs seem inclined to leave him in AAA to work on his defense (15 errors with limited range) and plate discipline.

The next Cubs rookie we see could be the flame-throwing Alberto Cabrera.  He's already on the 40 man roster and while the Cubs are looking for starters, the bullpen could use a boost as well.

Keith Law was impressed this spring (insider only),

The Cubs threw reliever Alberto Cabrera, who has one of the most electric fastballs I've seen from a prospect in a long time -- but doesn't have much else. That fastball was 95-97 for two innings with plus-plus sinking life, and he was around the plate with it a lot more than you'd expect given its movement. His changeup was dead-straight and very hittable, while the slider is short but not sharp; one of those two pitches has to come along this year for him to be a viable bullpen option, but he can probably go further than most relievers with one pitch because of its velocity and life.

The Iowa camera angle is often from above and behind the batters box, so it's difficult to get a good gauge on his slider.  What I can see, however, is that batters are missing it, often lunging when it breaks low and away.  He doesn't throw it as often as the fastball (why would he?), but it seems to have been an effective out pitch for him as well.

From a statistical point of view, Cabrera's numbers are ridiculous.

He has walked just 10 batters in 45.2 innings between AA and AAA while striking out 54.  That translates to a 10.63 strikeout rate vs. a 1.97 walk rate.  He has yet to walk a batter since being promoted to Iowa.  His ERA there so far has been 1.86 despite giving up what seems like more than his share of seeing eye grounders (.444 BABIP against).  I think superior defense at the MLB level will help Cabrera on those weakly hit groundballs.  His FIP/SIERA over AA/AAA was at 2.36 before Sunday's outing and it probably dropped after another strong performance.  His ERA is also 2.36 overall (2.25 in AA, 2.91 in AAA), so Cabrera isn't getting this done with luck.   His numbers are legit.

The Cubs could use some help in the bullpen beyond James Russell and Shawn Camp.  Cabrera could offer a nice change of pace to those finesse type relievers and perhaps a closer to groom behind Carlos Marmol.

I imagine the temptation might be to compare him in terms of stuff to Rafael Dolis and there are similarities in terms of size (6'4") and stuff (mid to high 90s sinking fastball, slider).  To me, Cabrera has a leaner, more athletic build and he may have even more sinking action on this two-seamer than Dolis.  But the biggest difference between the two is in terms of command.  Cabrera can put his pitch where he wants to much more consistently.  That may have to do with the superior athleticism and the ability to repeat his delivery better.  Cabrera's stuff also has more swing and miss to it than Dolis has ever had at any level -- perhaps, again, because of better movement, and almost certainly because of better location.

Cabrera has flown under the radar but quietly has become the guy I consider to be the Cubs top pitching prospect, at least among those who have actually pitched this season.  Ideally, you'd like your top prospect to be a starter, but the Cubs can use all the arms they can get.  And another bullpen arm certainly wouldn't hurt.

Filed under: Analysis, prospects

Tags: Alberto Cabrera


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  • We could use another strong pen arm to go with Dolis and there may be a good chance Marmol gets moved.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Right now he seems a rare combination of power and control. Strikes out a lot of guys, doesn't walk many. Has sharp downward movement so he can get those weak groundballs as well. I think if the Cubs move some people from the pen, this is the next guy to get the call.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Looks to be a good addition. With Corpas, Russell, Camp, Asencio, all throwing well, Cabrera can come in and get comfortable without having to face high-pressure situations every other day. Camp's arm is gonna fall off if they keep this up, so he can help ease the workload too.

    Tom, what makes you think Marmol will get moved? I wouldn't expect he'd be in high-demand, which means for any deal to get done, the Cubs would have to eat all of the next two years salary. I don't think the Cubs feel they have to move him a la Zambrano....

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    Agreed. Would like to see him get comfortable in low leverage, middle relief innings at first. Get him comfortable throwing strikes when he doesn't have to make that perfect pitch. Then gradually move him toward more of a late inning role.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I realize he hasn't blown a save in over a month: partly because he was demoted to set-up. I'm not sure that's enough for another team to take a chance on him, even if we pay all the freight.

  • As the season goes on we should give some of the pitchers
    from AAA a chance if our pitchers are not getting the job done.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I'm sure before giving the AAA players a chance, the Cubs FO wants to be sure they are in a position to succeed. Clearly their patience with Rizzo is looking like it's paying off. I don't see them bringing this kid up til they are confident he is ready.

  • In reply to Ibleedcubbieblue:

    The one thing Cabrera hasn't done for an extended period of time is struggle. He had a patch where he had 2 or 3 bad (but not terrible) outings. I can't imagine what they want to see unless it's to see him slump and see if he can pull out of it. He's shown everything else they want. Unless, of course, they want to see him do it for a longer period of time.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I'm sure we'll see a few guys from here until the end of the season. They have shown they have certain standards to meet before that happens, however. I believe Cabrera has met those standards.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Pitching standards (esp. bullpen arms) are different than the position player standards. If a guy has a live arm and demonstrates the ability and mental make-up, he'll get the call regardless of how long he's been in Iowa.

    I think John is right, we'll see him soon. I'd guess he will replace Dolis...who hasn't pitched well at all, and only twice in the last month or so.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    Yes, agreed, and I'd add control/command to that.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Fingers crossed that Ascencio can remain a viable righty to alternate with Camp, and Maine can be a viable lefty to alternate with Russell. That leaves just Dolis to replace, who as John noted, could be Cabrera.

    That said, because Camp and Russell are pitching well, playoff teams may come calling, and they could be moved at the deadline. That would open up a bunch of holes....and likely make the rest of the season a sh**-show, IMO.

  • Another fine article, John. I like to hear about another power arm to come out of the bullpen. STL's closer, Motte, is a one pitch guy, to me. I'd love to hear that McNutt and Whitenack are future SP's. It doesn't sound like McNutt is making that viable though.

  • In reply to Greg Shuey:

    Thanks Greg. We do lack power arms. It was nice to see Dolis performing well early in the season, but even then he didn't show swing and miss stuff despite the velocity. And both he and Marmol have trouble throwing strikes. Cabrera, and another Cubs hard throwing reliever, Tony Zych, have shown the ability to do that.

    I think McNutt is going to be a reliever, which would be a disappointment for me. I hope I'm wrong.

  • Great stuff as always, John. I am concerned about the number of innings that Camp and Russell have been used. The Cubs need to find a few arms to take some of the pressure off of them being used on a daily basis. A lot of arms suffer the follow year, or never truly get back to where they were before, after that kind of abuse. The Braves pen has a few examples there right now of your arms that haven't bounced back from that kind of overuse.
    While it isn't as much a concern for Camp, as I think he could be moved, and if not I don't see him in the long term plans for the Cubs, but Russell could be a key piece of the pen moving forward. I would hate to see our best reliever's performance suffer over the next season or two because of overuse in a season where the team isn't going anywhere.

  • In reply to supercapo:

    Thanks...and agreed. It could come into play even more as the Cubs continue to improve and play better, they're going to need to rely on Camp and Russell even more if they keep winning.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    For the long term, our bullpen will be awfully different. Marmol (30), Camp (37) and Corpas (30) are questionable when the Cubs rebuild finds them in contention. A quick scan of the minors shows some promise in AA and AAA. My biggest concern is our lack of impact lefties. Beliveau (25) and Jokisch (23) appear to be the only bullpen help. Do we have anything in the way of starters outside of Travis Wood as far as Lefty Starters that could make it? Maholm will probably be on the outside looking in. If we can restock a few pitchers to go along with our position players, our minor league system will be pretty strong. With Rizzo doing so well, I hope Vogelbach rakes his way through the minors and lands us a top tier major leaguer down the line.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Cubs don't have much in the way of LHP, SPs or RPs. Beliveau is your best bet if he can regain command he showed last year. But after seeing Russell and Marshall succeed as finesse relievers, I won't rule out guys like Jokisch, Raley, Rusin, Kirk, etc.

  • I'm sure there aren't many people dying to know the answer to this, but what's the work on Lendy Castillo?

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Seems to me they're stashing him to send him down to AA next year.

  • John is Cabrera the guy we picked up from the Brewers. I'm drawing a blank on how we got him.

  • In reply to Bilbo Baggins:

    He's an international free agent from the Dominican Republic, signed in 2006. Like Jeimer Candelario, Cubs put him on the fast track he played in the DSL as a 17 year old and then Boise as an 18 year old and he's shown flashes in the past, but really struggled last season. He seems to have found himself again.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Of topic, but I just read Cubs signed Almora for 3.9 mil according to Jim Balis.

  • In reply to Zippy2212:

    Yep! First 20 picks are in.

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    Breaking some news per Jim Callis (who is always pretty reliable) we got AA done for 3.9m!

  • In reply to James Knott:

    He's very reliable. Put up a quick post already but will add details later.

  • In reply to James Knott:

    Must of been typing at the same time. lol And I meant Callis. :)

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    AA being Albert Almora in this case and not the Blue Jays GM.

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    It's all about that pitching. There are a lot of things to fix for next season, but pitching is a major problem. Our bullpen can keep the game close. We need some more depth.

  • In reply to Tyler Pacis:

    Agreed. We need more impact and more depth.

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