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