After going on a massive international free agent spending spree in 2014, the Yankees were restricted to offering relatively small signing bonuses for the 2015 cycle. One of the players who they were able to sign was a 5-foot-10, 145-pound middle infielder named Oswaldo Cabrera. The soon-to-be 23-year-old is now coming off an incredible year — one where he finished with 29 home runs at Double-A and Triple-A and was selected to the Yankees’ 40-man roster in November. With that spot and the defensive versatility that comes with the ability to play three infield positions, what could become the biggest factor in finding Cabrera playing time with the Yankees in 2022?
The switch-hitting Cabrera rose quickly through the system before finding himself overmatched against older competition in his early exposure to the Low-A level in 2017 and 2018. Signs that Cabrera was finding his stride again began to emerge in 2019, as he posted a 130 wRC+ over his last 77 games with High-A Tampa while leading the team in games played at both second base and third base on the season.
Using the cancelled 2020 season as an opportunity to refine his game, Cabrera worked hard to become physically stronger, and while still listed as 145 pounds on his official MiLB.com player profile, it is clear that the number is no longer accurate. The results soon began showing up on the field in 2021 as Cabrera, who’d hit 26 home runs in his four previous minor league seasons, became one of the most prolific power hitters in the Double-A Somerset lineup. A deeper look at Cabrera’s showing indicates that he still has a lot of work to do before he finds himself in the discussion for an everyday role at the major league level, but it also provides a glimpse at how Cabrera could help the Yankees as soon as 2022.
Playing mostly at Double-A Somerset last year, Cabrera slashed .290/.350/.612, with 26 home runs in 335 at-bats as a left-handed hitter in 2021. Add in his 26 doubles and two triples from the left-hand side, and Cabrera had an extra base hit every 6.2 at-bats on the season when facing righty pitching.
While Yankees fans are hoping that the resolution of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the current player lockout will lead the team to make moves in either free agency, the trade market, or both, that is no sure thing. As of right now, the Yankees infield is built of all right-handed hitters and two in Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres who struggled through the 2021 season.
Urshela had previously hit well against both righties and lefties, but he took a step back in 2021, posting just a .693 OPS against right-handed pitching on the season. This is 85 OPS points lower than his production against southpaws. In a similar vein, Gleyber Torres, who will likely spend most of his time at second base, though shortstop can’t be entirely ruled out either, also posted just a .651 OPS against right-handed pitching this past season.
As of 2019, right-handed pitchers have started over 70 percent of all MLB games dating back to 1969. In recent years, one of the most frequent criticisms of the Yankees’ lineups has been that they have been too right-handed, especially playing in a stadium that is built for left-handed power. Cabrera’s ability to hit right-handed pitching, while capably manning second base, shortstop, or third base, is a viable path for him to find significant playing time, especially if some of the Yankees regular infield options continue to struggle against right-handed pitching.
WHAT A BOMB!— SWB RailRiders (@swbrailriders) September 25, 2021
Oswaldo Cabrera hits a solo home run in the bottom of the 4th. pic.twitter.com/pzRQcnv6at
There is still work to do for Cabrera, as he has played just nine games at the Triple-A level, and he will have to demonstrate that he can handle the consistent step up in competition this coming season. If he shows that his power surge of 2021 is here to stay, and his defense continues to be solid around the infield, then there will be plenty of at-bats for Cabrera at the major league level for years to come.