Fernando Jose Cabrera
Born: 11-16-1981, Toja Baja, PR
High School: Discipulous de Cristo School, Bayamon, PR
Acquired: 1999 Draft (10th Round)
The Indians didn't have a first round pick in 1999, but that didn't excuse how terrible the top of their draft was. Will Hartley, their top draft pick, didn't make it out of rookie ball. They were unable to sign their fourth round pick, Jeff Baker. Those looking for reasons why the Indians had to rebuild in 2002 will find one with this draft. Of those the Indians signed, only three have made it to the majors: Jason Davis, Kyle Denney, and Fernando Cabrera, who has the best bet of becoming a contributor for the major-league team.
Cabrera was just 18 when drafted, and since the Indians didn't have a Gulf Coast League affiliate at the time, he was assigned to the Appalachian League. He made 13 starts, quite a bit for a short-season league, and put up fairly pedestrian numbers. In 2001, he was much better in the South Atlantic League, improving his control and his strikeouts. He was even better in Kinston, allowing just 83 hits in 110 innings. He didn't really have a third pitch, so the Indians started to transition him to the bullpen in 2003. The move became a permament one the next season in Buffalo, but he didn't really take off until 2005, when he finally was able to tighten his control. The results were devastating; 68 strikeouts in only 51.1 innings.
The Indians didn't need Cabrera until late in 2005, but he proved a valuable reliever down the stretch. Fernando was used mainly in a 6th/7th inning role and wasn't overwhelmed by the pennant race. Going into 2005, a lot of people (including me) were annointing him the team's next closer.
2006 thus far has been a disaster for Cabrera. He pitched for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and it seemed as if irregular use during the tourament affected his mechanics. He gave up runs in three of his first four outings, walking 7 in 4.2 innings pitched. The Indians placed him on the Disabled List in mid-April, and not necessarily because an injury; he was out of the options, and the only way to get him some work in the minors was through a rehab assignment. He pitched well for Buffalo, striking out 13 and walking 2 in 8.1 innings of work, and he pitched well after reinstatement from the DL. But control issues and the gopher ball continued to dog him through June and July; in 20 innings, he walked 9 and allowed 4 home runs, poor numbers for a reliever.
Cabrera has three pitches in his arsenal
(1) Fastball (~93-96 mph)
(3) Slider (mostly to right-handers)
Cabrera has the raw stuff to close games. his fastball has good movement, but his splitter misses more bats.
First and foremost is control. Cabrera needs to throw his fastball for strikes in order to get hitters to chase his splitter; and when he does fall behind, he's been unable to hit corners. His follow-though puts him in a poor position to field, and he's easy to run on.
He's going to remain a reliever, but it remains to be seen if he'll gain the consistency a top setup man needs to have. He still has the stuff to pitch in high-leverage situations, but so do a lot of young relievers.