The next Samardzija? Cubs to try Alberto Cabrera as a starter

The next Samardzija? Cubs to try Alberto Cabrera as a starter

With slim pickings on the free agent market and in the upper levels of the system, the Cubs may have to get creative again.  Last year it was Jeff Samardzija, who had previously had a spotty career as a reliever, who worked hard in the offseason to turn himself into a starter.  The results were dramatic, as Samardzija showed great stuff, stamina, and command as he put together some dominant outings en route to a solid first season as a starter.

This year, the conversion candidate is Alberto Cabrera, whom the Cubs announced will be stretched out as a starter at Iowa next year.

My response to this is...why not?

There are some similarities with Shark, starting with the size, (Cabrera is 6'4, 210 lbs.), athleticism, power repertoire, and the potential for good command.

Cabrera can reach 97 mph but doesn't throw as consistently hard as Samardzija does  The hope is he has the size and strength to maintain that velocity, which averaged around 94 mph last season.  Cabrera does have a clean, effortless delivery that should hold up well over 9 innings.  He also throws an effective slider and even threw an occasional change-up that was surprisingly useful this past season.

The big RHP showed the ability to miss bats last season, striking out 11.22 batters per 9 innings but did struggle with his command in the big leagues after walking just 1.86 batters per 9 IP in AAA.  Throw in a low strand rate of 59.5% and you get the feeling that Cabrera was a little better than his 5.40 ERA would indicate.  His FIP was at 3.83.

The Cubs have little to lose here by stretching out Cabrera.  Returning him to the bullpen shouldn't be an issue should he not succeed, but if he does succeed, the Cubs have themselves a pitcher with front end stuff along with the size to be a workhorse.  His previous experience as a starter didn't go all that well, but Cabrera was ranked among the Cubs top 10 prospects as recently as 2010, when he was mostly used as a starter.

This past offseason, Cabrera went to work with Chris Bosio, specifically on his grip and turned out to be one of the new pitching coaches biggest success stories.  His velocity and movement increased on his fastball and his command improved.  Cabrera became a dominant reliever at the AA and AAA levels.

The new approach certainly worked for him as a reliever, can it rekindle his once great potential as a starter too?

I don't want to get ahead of myself, but a rotation with Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza (or whomever they acquire for him), Alberto Cabrera, and Arodys Vizcaino looks like it has the makings of an intriguing power rotation in the very near future, as soon as the end of 2013.

Of course, a lot of things have to break the Cubs way for that all to work out, but it certainly is nice to dream on.

Filed under: Starting rotation


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    I just love the fact that the front office realizes it has nothing to lose, and therefore, it's not afraid to think outside the box.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Me too. Nothing to lose, much to gain here. He's just 24 and he has electric stuff.

  • Ooo, I like this. What was their reason for switching him to the pen in the minors, do you remember?

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Lack of command and simply that he didn't succeed in that role. I think he made a breakthrough last spring and it seems the Cubs are going to ride that as far as they can.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Along with that, the change never really developed all that well, and the slider, while flashing plus at times, was inconsistent.

    That said, nothing to lose with stretching him out. If he readjusts and succeeds, then you have a power starter. At worst, forces him to work on his command and secondary stuff, which, on paper, could make him a much better pen arm.

  • In reply to toonsterwu:

    Exactly. Nothing to lose at all.

    I think the emergence too of Tony Zych, who's having a real good fall league, may be a factor as well. Zych is an RP all the way and throws as hard as Cabrera, maybe even harder, and he does it with good command. His slider is improving too.

  • The fact that he has just turned 24 gives me a little hope that he can still succeed as a starter but he certainly struggled in that role in 2010 and 2011.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    He did, but his command and movement on his fastball is so much better right now. Even his velo has picked up a couple of notches. Worth a shot, at least.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Definitely worth the shot. There is very little downside.

  • The downside risk is that the Cubs wind up having to use a less effective middle reliever on a team that will likely win 70-75 games while Cabrera tries to move back to starting. The upside is it either works and we have another SP candidate or it doesn't and we have a reliever with hopefully better control than he showed this year, So it;s a no-brainer.

  • In reply to cubsin:


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    John, not sure if you remember this but a while back in your article about acquiring starters I mentioned the possibility of trying Cabrera as a starter. We need starters with front line stuff badly and, like shark, we have nothing to lose. There was a reason why I specifically mentioned Cabrera over say Dolis. He has the look of a horse type starter and has a consistent delivery with improved command.

    Speaking of that, while were at it with Cabrera, why not see if bosio can work with Dolis and see if he can start again? If dolis tightens up his mechanics that power sinker and even a decent slider/changeup could make a good starter. Look at Jason hammel of the Astros, he dominated us with just a power sinker. what do you think?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I did not remember but that's great insight on your part. As for Dolis, who knows? Maybe he's next, but I think there's a lot more work to make him a starter than Cabrera.

  • This could be a huge find if this works out, if not then back to the bullpen but I have felling this might work out. He has the stuff and with this coaching staff I think this could be a success.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Adding another power arm would be a tremendous boost. Really like this idea.

  • 'Make up' may be an issue. He has the stuff, build, and endurance.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Given how hard he worked to improve last offseason, how well he took to the new coaching, and how he's never had a problem since he's been in the organization, I'm going to presume his makeup is just fine.

  • Now that Ozzie Gullien is unemployed, where will Ozzie manage next?

    List of teams I compile might fit Ozzie.

    Royals....up and coming talent that Ozzie could control over and deliver a winner.

    Mariners....long shot, but spotlight will be off of him in the great Northwest.

    Astros.....This might be the best spot for pressure to win now.....large local Hispanic community he can relate to......Astros need a drawing card, Ozzie fits that profile.....and the Astros are in the A.L. West now.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    I would have loved to see Ozzie in Beantown, but I'd rather not see Ozzie at all.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Joey Cora also let go, maybe he goes to Mariners?

  • Mitch Williams is "Brutal" on MLB TV.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    "Brutal" may be kind

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    Yes John, that young rotation along w hopefully these guys spend some money on at least 1 starter that they believe will be here for when we are good to go along w the misfits squares/projects they also plan to sign.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Cubs definitely looking toward 2014 right now. Could have 3-4 good arms by then and it makes it so much easier to add that final piece through free agency if they need to.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's been a long time since we had multiple stud SP's who could make hitters look silly (since Woody & Prior's heyday by my reckoning). Would be a welcome sight at Wrigley in 2014-15!

  • I heard Fisk got arrested for DUI in New Lenox, Il. He was found in a farm field. Maybe he was there thinking of building a baseball field among the crops?

    Only good news form White Sox camp is that Adam Dunn was named "Comeback Player of the Year"

  • "If you build it they will come" and even if you don't build it, if they have enough vodka, they may show up anyway.

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    Between Cabrera and Vizcaino, that is now 2 pitchers who probably could have been useful/good bullen arms next year, that will instead stay at Iowa and get stretched out. I think it's the right decision, nothing to lose and they can always go back to the bullpen, but we will have to remember the master plan next year....when we figure to lose alot of games while seeing some pretty bad starting pitching at the ML level. Patience.....

    The Cubs will sign a starter or two, but likely not top-flight starters, and on short-term deals

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Patience, indeed. This is all about 2014. The Cubs could have at least 3 young power arms (I'll still consider Shark young, because there's been so little wear and tear on this arm early in his career). That's what's so hard to find in free agency, that's what you have to develop at home because teams don't make power arms available all that often through trade or free agency.

  • I like the idea of trying to use our own young pitchers and try
    to turn them into starters. Might be able, one way or another,
    to acquire very young pitchers and try to turn them into starters. No sense spending lots of money for long term contracts on middle-aged pitchers.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I love this idea. We've seen it work with Shark and also Sale on the south side. Didn't work so well with Bard in Boston. But in the search for top arms, it seems more and more teams will look within and find a guy they previously gave up on as a starter and try again.

  • With Gullien out at in Miami....the Marlins have been unloading their free player on the Marlins team might help the Cubs in various ways....Mark Buerhle......the guy can eat innings, and can bring trade value by next July........Cubs can have the Marlins eat 90% of his contract for a player like Junior Lake.........Mark can also teach some of our young pitchers along the way.....Marlins want to go to a new direction.....again for the ninth time since 2002........I hope MLB owners and Selig sees what a :"joke" the Marlins ownership are to MLB........time to have a team in Brooklyn.....would be nice to bring back MLB back to Brooklyn.....and end that "joke" in Miami.

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    In reply to CubsTalk:

    Marlins won't eat 90%, you maybe mean have the Cubs eat 90% but then we wouldn't have to give them a prospect like that back.

    If the Marlins wants Junior Lake, then they need to send us a couple of young pitchers and we will eat 75-80% of Buhrle's contract. Saves them money, gets us solid pitcher we could flip if hes pitching well. I like your idea, hopefully Jedstein is listening.

    I like the idea of getting Mark hear for eating the innings as well as teaching the young guys the art of pitching like you said.

    Cubs have tons of money, time to start flexing that money muscle instead of acting like a destitude broke franchise like they are trying to sell to us.

    Big market teams gobble up small market teams mistakes when it's in there favor. .

    Chicago Cubs = Big market team

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Cubs talk - How in the world do you think Marlins are a joke? Have they not won 2 World Series since their expansion? One of which came at our expense. I'd be happy with one right now! They've built a brand new ballpark, have some nice yound players in Stanton, Yelich and Fernandez that they hope to build around. So they made a huge mistake in hiring Ozzie Guillen and made a failed attempt at throwing money at the team this year to win a World Series in a new ballpark. While trying to buy a World Series is usually not the best approach, it did work for them once before. I look at their track record and have a hard time understanding why you think that organization is a joke...

  • In reply to Ibleedcubbieblue:

    Marlins ownership / front office are a joke...

    going to have their 9th manager since 2002...

    Gave away Miguel Cabrera for nothing.....gave away Hanley Ramirez for nothing........

    Had Joe Girardi as a great manager, and was tossed out by the owner....

    The new stadium is under federal investigation with deals between local politicians and ownership on use of taxpayers money.....

    Yes, two world series teams, and next season, Fire Sale on the players because ownership did not want to pay their contracts......

    Stanton is a great was Banks, Santo & many World Series Rings do they have combine?

    I can say that Cubs fans are more loyal than Marlins fans......want to guess which team attracted the most fans on the road this past season once again?......our below 500 Cubs !

    Who wants to manage the Marlins now?......Ownership is a "Cancer".....the Marlins will be stuck with inner system managers to take on the role.

    Right now, Cubs farm system is far more better than the Marlins.....I have no doubt the next Baseball America farm system rating will put the Cubs in the top ten.......Marlins farm system were consider near last to the bottom as I remember during the summer.

    If you feel the Marlins are better then the Cubs, they are plenty of empty seals in that nice Miami indoor stadium where they have to color dye their new dead turf every week......tropical fish tanks along the back stop is provided for entertainment.....or you can go to the "Clevelander" in left field where there is a pool that shoots warm bubbles up your swim trunks as you sip on a tropical drink that has a mini umbrella in this what baseball has come down to?

    Ozzie is Ozzie......he is in Spain, will pick up $7.5 million for doing nothing and tweet about it.......six years ago, Ozzie was smiling....Ozzie is still smiling.

    I have no doubt when the Cubs / Theo / Jed do start winning titles, it will be compared to the Bulls Dynasty years..........future glimpse can be seen at Kane County in the next several years.

  • I think it is great to try cabrera and dolis as starters. It is a no brainer. Also I want to get Sutcliffe as a coach to work with volstad and any other pitcher who needs mental toughness and that need to learn how to attach and control the strike zone.

  • In reply to John57:

    Volstad definitely needs to be tougher and more aggressive on the mound. He's 6'8", he needs to use that to his advantage to intimidate hitters. Instead, he's a comfortable AB for hitters up there. That shouldn't happen. With Volstad it's not about his stuff or talent, it's about that approach. If he can figure that out, he could still become a solid starter.

  • With Volstad, assuming they bring him back, why not try him as a power reliever? A reverse Samardzija. It just seems likely to me never going to be more than a shuttle starter.

  • Not a bad idea with Volstad- but maybe he's too much of a head case for the pen....all in all it seems the theme here of uncovering value by shifting the roles of your assets is a sound one, and one that the new leadership is willing to explore.

  • John, who do you see at other possible relievers that could be stretched out to starters? Could that be an article in itself?

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