Spring training provides a tremendous opportunity for young players to make a name for themselves in front of the major-league coaching staff. Several minor leaguers who finished the 2019 season on a high note will be called on repeatedly to fill out the spring-training lineups and daily rosters. Two of these players, Oswaldo Cabrera and Kyle Holder, have demonstrated versatility on their rise through the minor leagues and finished 2019 with extended runs of strong offensive performance.
After signing with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2015, Cabrera burst onto the scene the next year, registering a .919 OPS while playing at all three levels of rookie ball. Earning a promotion to the Staten Island Yankees as an 18-year-old, he continued to produce and earned another promotion to Low-A Charleston before the end of the 2017 season. Cabrera struggled at that Low-A level for a season, but he started the 2019 season with High-A Tampa.
After struggling through much of April and May, Cabrera’s offensive game took off during the last week in May. The versatile infielder hit .283/.341/.434 in his last 77 games. That was good for a 130 wRC+ in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League. The switch-hitting Cabrera increased his fly-ball rate by over 12% during 2019, and it resulted in a career high in home runs.
Projected to start the season with Double-A Trenton in 2020, Cabrera will see plenty of action early in spring training. With the ability to cover shortstop, third base, and second base, he has numerous avenues to find playing time through the spring and moving forward.
Holder has long been known to Yankees fans, the 30th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Defense has been his calling card since being labeled the best defensive shortstop available in his draft class. Holder registered a 119 wRC+ in the Eastern League in 2019, first season with an above average offensive performance.
The shortstop’s offensive development came on the heels a lost season in 2018. During that campaign he battled injuries in the form of a fractured vertebra coming out of spring training, plus a concussion suffered after a collision at second base late in the season. Coming off that frustrating year, Holder started slow in 2019 before finding his groove in early June, when he became one of Trenton’s best offensive weapons down the stretch.
Over his last 67 games, Holder hit .296/.371/.437, good for a 139 wRC+. Beyond his production, Holder saw his walk rate jump to just over 9% for the last three months of the season. Improved plate disciplined combined with a noticeable increase in power could indicated that Holder has improved his bat enough for it to become a major-league caliber tool.
After a strong season with improved play, Holder is an non-roster invitee to Yankees spring training. He seen action with the big leaguers over the last two springs, and figures to get a lot more this year. When the team breaks camp. he is likely headed to Triple-A Scranton where he will be on the cusp of a call-up should the need arise. For that to happen, though, he must prove that his improved play down the stretch was real and not just an extended hot streak.
Nobody is ready to label either Holder or Cabrera as elite prospects based on their strong finishes to 2019. Now each player will have show that their skill level has improved and can be carried to the next level of the minors. Spring training will be the first step as these players look to show that they can contribute to the major-league roster if called upon over the next few seasons.