Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Utility--Jolbert Cabrera (2000-2002)

Utility infielders and utility outfielders have become extremely valuable resources in the game of baseball. For the Indians, over the years, players such as John McDonald and Jamey Carroll have established themselves as key bench players. Players such as ex-Tiger Tony Phillips and ex-Angel and current Mariner Chone Figgins have re-invented the position. Phillips became the first player to start ten games at five different positions, while Figgins started 35+ games at third base, centerfield and second all in the same season. The Indians have utilized several players in a similar fashion over the years. Most recently, Jamey Carroll had found time at second and third base and right and left field. Prior to Carroll, Casey Blake carried the uber-utility slot for the Tribe, playing third and first base, right and left field, as well as DH during his tenure with the Tribe. He started at third base for the Tribe in 2003 and 2004, moved to the outfield for 2005 and 2006, then moved back to third base for 2007 and most of 2008. Throughout his tenure, he would periodically start at the other positions. Unfortunately for Blake, he doesn't qualify for the All-Aught slot because he started most games at one position to the other from year to year. Even though Carroll should qualify, I'm excluding him because he didn't play much outfield, and really didn't play much outfield in his tenure with the Tribe. The All-Aught Indians utility player is Jolbert Cabrera.

I know what you're thinking...WHAT!?! Cabrera was on my radar for this position, but I still believed Blake or Carroll were the better player for this slot. Once you got down to the nitty-gritty, it became clear that Cabrera was the clear standard bearer at the position for the Indians.

Remember, a good utility player plays defense, and Jolbert Cabrera did just that, and extremely well. You could say it runs in the family, since his brother, Orlando, is as good as they come at the shortstop position. You couldn't peg him for an infielder or an outfielder, although he was brought up as a shortstop like his brother. As good a defender as he was, he wasn't going to supplant Omar Vizquel at shortstop, and with Roberto Alomar and Travis Fryman at second and third, he was the odd man out. So, the Indians did the next best thing...played him at ALL the positions, including the outfield.

Cabrera would get a cup of coffee with the Indians in 1998, playing one game at shortstop. In 1999 Cabrera would start the season with the big league club, and would start at second, center and left and would pinch run before being sent back down to Buffalo. He'd return in August and continue his utility role, although he would struggle with the stick all season, batting a paltry .189 with a sad-sack .231 OBP. He would break out as a utility player in 2000.

In 2000, Jolbert would start the season in Buffalo before being recalled by the Indians at the end of April. He would stay with the big league club for the rest of the season. Cabrera would play 29 games in right, 26 games in center, 24 games in left, 19 games at second, 8 games at short and two games as the DH. Most amazing was that Cabrera would only make one error all year long. His bat improved, batting .251, which wasn't bad for a guy that only started 35 games that year. In the 35 games he started, he batted a much improved .279. His highlight that season came at the end of July, when he went 5 for 5 against Baltimore.

He would follow up in 2001 with even better numbers, starting at six different positions. He would find himself in 141 games that year, playing 36 games in left, 35 games in center, 28 games at second, 27 games at third, 18 games at right and 14 games at short. He would make eight errors that year, but when you are splitting your time up between seemingly every position, well, you get my point. He improved his batting average to .261, while stealing 10 bases in 14 attempts. He would also drive in a fairly impressive 38 runs in 287 at bats.

Cabrera's career would fizzle in Cleveland in 2002, and the Tribe would trade him to the Dodgers in July. Still, Cabrera started the Aughts becoming the "Tony Phillips-of-the-Tribe," and did it better than anybody has since.

No, Cabrera didn't blow you away with numbers, but he could play defense, and play defense well. He was never a guy that was going to start at one position, because he could plug up so many holes. That's what a good utility player does...and Cabrera did it better than anyone else. Cabrera was also much respected in the dugout, a hard-working player, and everything you could ever ask for as a blue-collar utility guy.

Cabrera spawned the uber-utility player for the Indians, and likely led the Tribe in the hunt for players such as Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll. Cabrera has managed to stay in the league for the better part of the past nine seasons, including a stint in Japan. The Mets have recently signed Cabrera to try and make the club as, you guessed it, a utility player.

Now, he'll always be remembered as the All-Aught Indians utility player.

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