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Sadaharu Cabrera Alex Cabrera is
2002-09-12 23:15
by Mike Carminati

Sadaharu Cabrera

Alex Cabrera is on a pace to break the Japanese Leagues home run record of 55, which is shared by Sadaharu Oh (1964) and ex-Cub Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes (2001). Rhodes you may remember hit three home runs on opening day in 1994 (to put my rotisserie team in a hole they never climbed out off) and four in four consecutive at-bats over the course of the first two games that year, though he only had 13 for his MLB career.

Like Tuffy Rhodes, Cabrera is guy who has talent but never put it together at the major-league level so turned instead to the Japanese Leagues. Japanese baseball has been littered with these types of players: Tom O'Malley, Roberto Petagine, the Day brothers, etc. Cabrera may even be an exception among this baseball side show.

Cabrera was signed by the Cubs in 1991 at the age of 19 as a first baseman/outfielder. He hit for power and moved up until 1994 when he hit 24 home runs and drove in 73 with a .273 batting average for Peoria of the Double-A Midwest League. It seemed like a breakthrough year, but Cabrera started the next year at the Florida State League instead of moving up a level as he had done the previous three. He hit an empty .294 while slugging only .388 and had 2 homers in 214 at-bats. Whether this was due to his apparent demotion (i.e., non-promotion) or some injury (he was not on the DL however) is difficult to say, but he played only 54 games. The next year he was demoted to the Single-A California League, hit .281 with a .470 slugging average, 15 home runs and 53 RBI. He was 25 and floundering in the Cubs organization when he was mercifully released at the end of 1996.

The next couple of seasons he spent in baseball's answer to purgatory, the Mexican League. He hit over .300 each year with a total of 44 home runs in two years. In 1998, the Devil Rays signed him but then loaned him back to the Mexico City Tigres for his second Mexican League season. They evidently were not impressed and let him become a free agent after 1998.

Cabrera went next to Taiwan and played for the China Trust hitting .317 with 21 home runs and a .580 slugging average. That got the Diamondbacks' attention, and they signed him for 2000. He sped through the Rookie League, Double-A, and Triple-A hitting .353, slugging .851, and collecting 39 home runs in 76 games. According to Bill James, the major-league equivalents for those numbers are 30 home runs, 73 RBI, .322 batting average, .366 on-base percentage, and .728 slugging average. He was named Howe Sportsdata Minor League Player of the Year.

Finally, at the age of 28, Cabrera made it to the majors. In his first at-bat June 26 he hit a home run off of Yorkis Perez and then hit a triple the first time up in his next game. Cabrera hit .571, 4 HR and 13 RBI in his first week with Arizona, but then got injured and spent two weeks on the DL in July. When he returned, he struggled (2-for-22) and was sent down. He returned when Erubiel Durazo got hurt but only hit one more home run and spent the rest of the year mostly on the bench.

In total, he played in 31 games with 80 at-bats and had 5 home runs. He batted .263 with a .500 slugging average. At the end of 2000, Arizona apparently disenchanted with Cabrera's slump after his hot first week sold him to the Seibu Lions where he toils today.

In total Cabrera has been in five organizations, has had equal parts of success and failure, and now stands at the brink of marginalized greatness. Baseball is funny.

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