Position: 3B Height: 6-2 Weight: 180 Born: 4/18/83 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Marlins signed Miguel Cabrera as a free agent in 1999. He earned a bonus of nearly $2 million, a record for a Venezuelan player, and so far he looks like an excellent investment for the cash. The youngest regular player in each of his professional leagues so far, Cabrera held his own in the Midwest League in 2001, showed signs of breaking out in '02 and is destroying Double-A so far this season. He ranks among the Top 10 prospects in baseball right now and has a good chance to be the top hitting prospect in the game by the end of this season.
Cabrera is a physical specimen. Originally a shortstop, he has outgrown the position and is now at third base. His arm is very strong and his hands aren't bad, but his range is only average even at third base. He might end up at an outfield corner eventually, but he'll stay at third as long as possible. He lacks pure speed, but gets a decent jump and is a fundamentally sound runner who can't be ignored. Scouts also like his work ethic and enthusiasm. For all those positive qualities, his bat draws the most notice. Scouts are taken with his bat speed and project excellent power to come. He makes good contact and does not strike out excessively. His strike-zone judgment is mediocre, though it's shown signs of improving. He'll never be a big walk machine, but he does not swing wildly and does a decent job working counts. He's improved his ability to go with the pitch and shows good pop to all fields. He looks like a genuine Seven Skill player, if he can show range at third base. Even if his defense proves disappointing, he will be a complete hitter.
His '01 and '02 numbers don't look too hot on the surface, but there are things to like. He's been extremely young for his leagues and has managed well against older competition. Forty three doubles in the Florida State League, renowned for big parks and thick air, is very impressive and a statistical indicator of more home run power to come. In '03 he's been unstoppable in Double-A, showing all the early signs of a major breakout, hitting for increased power and a high average, plus a better walk rate and fewer strikeouts. Even his excellent steal ratios are a good sign: he isn't a blazer, but has a great steal success rate, a sign of his strong baseball instincts.
Cabrera has had no major injury problems, although a strained back cost him a few games in 2001. Like most physically fit, fundamentally sound players, he loads the odds in his favor by staying in shape and playing the game correctly.
What to expect
Judging players in context is crucial. Although Cabrera's numbers on the surface aren't eye-popping, the fact that he's held his own against older competition is a huge factor to consider. The doubles last year were a sign of an approaching breakout, which was why I rated him so highly in my book this year (giving him a Grade A-) even though his surface numbers weren't tremendous. He's exceeded the expectations of even his strongest supporters so far in '03, and while he won't keep hitting .400, he will have an excellent year. The Marlins don't need a third baseman immediately, giving him plenty of time to develop his skills further.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.