From the moment Oswaldo Cabrera stepped on the field at Yankee Stadium in 2022, he captured the hearts of the city with his contagious swagger, but it was his strong defense at several positions and clutch hitting down the stretch and in the postseason that got both the Yankees and the fans excited. The following spring, he continued to build on that hype, first by playing pretty much every position on the diamond during exhibition games and then winning the left field job, courtesy of a .390/.611/1.001 slash with four homers in 59 plate appearances.
Unfortunately, that would be the peak of Cabrera’s season, as he would go on to lose the left field job and get demoted to Triple-A Scranton on two separate occasions.
2023 statistics: 115 games, 330 plate appearances, .211/.275/.299, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 60 wRC+, 7.6 BB%, 21.8 K%, -4 Defensive Runs Saved, -2 Outs Above Average, -0.6 fWAR
2024 ZiPS projections: 118 games, 438 plate appearances, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 87 wRC+, 7.3 B%m 24.4 K%, 1.0 fWAR
Cabrera enters the spring in a much different position than he did last year. Heading into 2023, he was a fan favorite, the young prospect who everybody would hope would, like Gary Sánchez in 2016, herald the dawn of the new age of Baby Bombers. Although in a battle for the starting left field job with Aaron Hicks, he played all over the field — including a couple of appearances in center field — during spring training, ready to fill the Ben Zobrist role that the Yankees have repeatedly try to fill over the years to no avail. This year, no path to a starting role exists that does not include multiple injuries. He’s most likely ticketed for a bench role, although that itself is no guarantee: the Yankees might decide that having both him and Oswald Peraza on the bench is superfluous, and because Cabrera has two option years remaining compared to Peraza’s one, they might decide to send him down for consistent playing time.
That might not be a bad thing. All the way back in May last year, our very own Esteban Rivera noted that Cabrera’s swing was off last year. After a trip to Triple-A Scranton, where he worked with his old hitting coach Trevor Amicone, he made some minor adjustments and came back with a hot bat: from August 8th to September 16th, he posted a 278/.391/.370 slash line in 64 plate appearances. While he finished the season in yet another slump — from September 17th onwards he went 8-for-49 with just one extra-base hit, a .347 OPS — it was an encouraging sign that Cabrera can continue to make adjustments and return to being a productive piece for a contender. Starting the season in Triple-A could allow him to build off these adjustments, so that when his name gets called again, he can avoid becoming a black hole in the lineup.
And truth be told, thanks to his switch-hitting ability and versatility with the glove, Cabrera doesn’t need to be a big masher with the bat to carve out a role. Sure, he’s not as good of an outfielder as he appeared to be during his 2022 cup of coffee, but he’s definitely no Hanley Ramirez out there. Because of his ability to back up across the infield and both corner outfield spots, he simply needs to be a league average bat off the bench to be immensely valuable to the team.
Hopefully, Cabrera can return to that form and find himself back in the Bronx, because he’s got all the personality traits needed to become his generation’s fan favorite.