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Know Your 40: Cesar Cabral

Will one of the highlights of last year's Spring Training successfully recover from injury to make an impact on this year's edition?

Fun fact: Cabral apparently bears a resemblance to Ivan Nova.
Fun fact: Cabral apparently bears a resemblance to Ivan Nova.

Name: Cesar Cabral
Position: Reliever (LHP)
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 24 (born 2/11/1989)
Height: 6’3" Weight: 250 lbs.*
Remaining Contract: 2011 Rule 5 Pick still under contract
2012 statistics: Did not play (Stress fracture in right elbow)
* and Baseball-Reference say 250. Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs say 175. If anyone has a suggestion for the discrepancy, I would love to hear it, though maybe not if it involves Grand Slamwiches.

Cabral was a hot topic last March when he impressed the Yankees’ organization with a strong Spring Training despite never having pitched above AA ball. The stress fracture injury he suffered likely cost him a spot on the 25-man roster, paving the way for LOOGY extraordinaire Clay Rapada to make the team. Since then, Cabral has become a forgotten man, but due to his season-long injury, the Yankees are allowed to keep him for another year, although he must spend at least 90 days on the 25-man roster if they want him past 2013.

The Dominican Republic native was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 2006 when he was 17 years old, and he spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. Cabral was a starter there, and he struggled in his first season (4.54 ERA in 11 games) before bouncing back in ’07 with a 1.76 ERA in 14 starts. This was likely a byproduct of the extra season of experience though, because when he joined the Rookie League in’08, he regressed to a 5.59 ERA in 11 games. His WHIP jumped back up even higher than ’06 levels to 1.448, but Boston decided to promote him to short-season Lowell in the New York-Penn League anyway the next season..

2009 was again not great however, as he finished at a 4.03 ERA even with better rate numbers (7.01 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 3.07 FIP). Eventually that year, the Red Sox gave up on him as a starter, and they stuck him in the bullpen, where he saved four games in five relief outings. His success in this role prompted another move up to Low-A Greenville, where he absolutely dominated the Sally League for half a season. Cabral gave up exactly one earned run in 31.1 innings, a 0.29 ERA, and he posted a sterling WHIP of 0.734. Opposing batters hit just .154 off Cabral, as his 90-95 mph fastball, changeup, and slider combination baffled the young hitters.

The Red Sox realized he was far too advanced for this league, and they bumped him up again to High-A Salem to finish the season. There, Cabral came back to Earth, as was bound to happen given the rise in BABIP from .232 in Low-A to .389 in High-A. Despite his FIP only mildly changing from 1.92 to 2.60, his ERA jumped to 5.81 in 48 innings, so Cabral was again in Salem when he began his most recent full season, 2011. Even though his minor league numbers seem to show that he never moved from the Red Sox, he bounced around a little bit during the Rule 5 draft. First, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted him, but not long after, the Toronto Blue Jays claimed him. Having none of this and clearly wanting to make Cabral’s brain hurt, the Rays claimed him back, and he spent Spring Training 2011 with Joe Maddon and company. Unfortunately for Cabral, he struggled in a brief seven-game cameo to a 5.59 ERA, so he was returned to Boston at the end of March. The Rule 5 dance is really, really weird sometimes. Poor guy.

Once the season began, he laughed at Lady Luck’s .357 BABIP to pitch to a 1.62 ERA, 1.22 FIP, and 12.96 K/9 in 16.2 innings before being promoted to Double-A Portland on May 18th. Cabral stayed in Portland for the remainder of the year, where he pitched well (3.52 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 10.8 K/9) even as his BB/9 ominously rose from 2.65 in 308.2 previous minor league innings to 3.76 in 38.1 at Double-A. Hopefully, that was just an anomaly and not a sign of control problems to come for Cabral.

In the 2011-12 offseason, Cabral was again not protected on the 40-man roster, so the Kansas City Royals drafted him. Not long after though, the Yankees acquired him from KC in exchange for cash. He excelled in the Dominican Winter League prior to Spring Training with a 0.87 ERA and a 6.00 K/BB ratio in 10 innings. With the Yankees last March, he continued to impress with a 1.59 ERA in 11.1 innings with another 6.00 K/BB ratio. Since he seemed to be doing well, held a reputation as a ground-ball pitcher in addition to nice strikeout numbers, and was lefthanded, he seemed to be in good shape to become a surprising addition to the major-league roster. Disaster struck though, and the stress fracture brought his season to a screeching halt. He was out for all of 2012.

The Yankees have a chance to keep Cabral longer, even though he is not expected to return until May. He might not stay on the 40-man roster, but he is a lefty reliever who showed flashes of talent before his injury. The Yankees will almost assuredly give him a chance to pitch in Triple-A, and possibly reach the majors if his rehab and minor league outings go well.