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Yankees' September call-ups: What to expect from lefty reliever Cesar Cabral

Cabral made his major league debut yesterday with an impressive inning against the White Sox. Could he be valuable down the stretch?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

In the Yankees' 9-1 Labor Day blowout of the White Sox, two Yankees appeared in their first career games. While catcher J.R. Murphy is certainly the bigger prospect of the two, lefty reliever Cesar Cabral likely has a better chance of making an impact on the playoff race.

I profiled Cabral prior to the 2013 season, chronicling his rise from struggling 17-year-old Red Sox starting prospect in the Dominican Summer League to his then-apex impressing the Yankees in Spring Training 2012. He's had a fairly tumultuous career for a 24-year-old who just made his MLB debut yesterday. In the Red Sox organization, Cabral went from dominance to disappointment upon promotions both in 2010 from Low-A Greenville (0.29 ERA and 0.734 WHIP in 31 1/3 innings) to High-A Salem (5.81 ERA and 1.542 WHIP in 48 innings), and in 2011 from Salem (1.62 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in 16 2/3 innings) to Double-A Portland (3.52 ERA and 1.487 WHIP in 38 1/3 innings). Prior to that 2011 season, Cabral bounced around the Blue Jays and Rays in the Rule 5 Draft and also experienced failure there when he was returned to Boston after a disappointing camp with Tampa.

The Red Sox decided to again not protect him in the Rule 5 Draft prior to 2012, and after the Royals claimed him, the Yankees traded cash considerations to Kansas City in exchange for Cabral. Here's what Minor League Ball's John Sickels wrote about Cabral prior to joining the Yankees for Spring Training in February:

[Cabral] has pitched excellently in the Dominican Winter League this year, with a 12/2 K/BB in 10 innings and a 0.87 ERA. He has a 90-95 MPH fastball and a good changeup, but is still refining his breaking ball. He picks up a lot of ground balls.

Cabral kept up that impressive 6.0 K/BB ratio in 11 1/3 Spring Training innings with the Yankees, and a 1.59 ERA seemed to indicate that he had a decent shot to make the Opening Day roster over super-LOOGY Clay Rapada. Unfortunately, he suffered a stress fracture in his right elbow toward the end of camp and not only failed to make the team, but failed to even throw a pitch for the entire 2012 season, which he missed due to rehab from surgery. Cabral finally made it back to the mound for the Yankees in May in a brief rehab with High-A Tampa before joining Double-A Trenton. He's been promoted twice now, and here's how he has done overall in the minors this year:

2013 Tampa (A+) 5 7.0 2.57 5.63 2.000 6.4 10.3 0.0 0.286
Trenton (AA) 15 19.2 5.49 3.96 1.576 10.1 4.1 0.9 0.370
Scranton (AAA) 10 10.0 7.20 1.80 1.700 14.4 4.5 0.0 0.480
Total 30 36.2 5.40 3.61 1.691 10.6 5.4 0.5 0.388
vs. LHB Tampa (A+) 4 11 2 2 2 0.286 0.455 0.429 0.884
Trenton (AA) 14 32 8 4 10 0.296 0.406 0.333 0.739
Scranton (AAA) 10 29 5 3 13 0.200 0.310 0.360 0.670
MiLB Total 28 72 15 9 25 0.254 0.375 0.356 0.731
vs. RHB Tampa (A+) 5 24 4 6 3 0.235 0.435 0.294 0.729
Trenton (AA) 14 57 14 5 12 0.280 0.357 0.520 0.877
Scranton (AAA) 8 18 7 2 3 0.438 0.500 0.688 1.188
MiLB Total 27 99 25 13 18 0.301 0.402 0.506 0.908

The numbers were not overly impressive, so Cabral was far from a slam-dunk candidate to be promoted in September, but since Joe Girardi likes carrying multiple bullpen lefties, Cabral got the call. As previously mentioned, he made his MLB debut yesterday and looked sharp, albeit against a meager White Sox lineup. He whiffed lefties Jordan Danks and Alejandro de Aza on three pitches each thanks to his slider and four-seamer (he also throws a splitter and a two-seamer). Here he is striking out Danks for his first career strikeout:

Granted, Cabral did give up a hit and a lineout to the two righties he faced, but those White Sox lefties just looked poor against him. He seemed to get better as his minor league season progressed against lefties, and with sharp pitches like his fastball and slider, that should not be shocking.

Cabral could certainly be a useful asset to the Yankee bullpen as the classic LOOGY to neutralize division rivals. Over half of the Yankees' games for the rest of the season are against AL East rivals who employ solid lefty hitters like David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chris Davis, Nate McLouth, Matt Joyce, and James Loney (to name a few). If Cabral looks impressive against lefties like he did against the White Sox last night, then he could be a surprising weapon to deploy out of the bullpen. It would allow Boone Logan more flexibility as well.

A strong September would give Cabral some hope at bullpen role in 2014, even if Logan returns from free agency. However, we can only wait and see how Girardi will use him given his inexperience. I still trust him more than Joba.

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