Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Asdrubal Cabrera grabs the Indians leadership reins

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Asdrubal Cabrera is the straw that stirs the Cleveland Indians' drink.

That's what I said four years ago when he made his debut for the Indians and helped lead the team to the 2007 playoffs.  That's what I said when he was out last season, nursing a broken forearm. That's what I say today, with Cabrera winning American League's co-player of the week after starting the season with four home runs in 10 days (he hit three last season, in an injury plagued year, and has never hit more than six in a season).

Cabrera's bread and butter will always be his defense. No, he's not Omar Vizquel, but who in their career was on the defensive side of the field? Cabrera has split his time between second base and shortstop over his career. As a shortstop, his career fielding percentage is an impressive .975 (Omar's, while clearly with a larger body of work, is .985). As a 2nd baseman, Cabrera has a .994 fielding percentage. Overall, he's at .983, while Omar's is .985. That's not too shabby for the start of a career.

This season, Cabrera has yet to make an error, and it should be interesting to watch him settle in at shortstop over the long haul. He's got soft hands, great footwork, good accuracy, has a high IQ, and is able to get to many balls that others can't get to. He can be an acrobat out there, but like Vizquel before him, it's not for show. He does whatever it takes to get into position, and has a strong enough arm to get the ball to first. Should he stay healthy and stay at the position, he's a gold-glover.

The big question with Cabrera has always been his offense. Could Cabrera turn into a productive offensive player, or would he ultimately be a one-sided defensive whiz? 2009 seemed to prove the former, as Cabrera played in 131 games and hit a stout .308, with 17 SB and 81 runs. He's now a career .284 with a lifetime .347 OBP.

Cabrera has always struggled being a selective hitter, but as he matures, that OBP could really start to take off. The other question with Cabrera has always been his power, of which he has showcased absolutely zilch over the length of his career...until this year. Cabrera's four homers in ten days is the most in that span that a shortstop has hit for the Tribe since 1960.

If you ask manager Manny Acta who the leader of the Indians infield is, without hesitation, he'll say Asdrubal Cabrera. That's saying something, considering the Indians signed former all-star and two time gold glove winner, Orlando Cabrera prior to the season. What speaks even more volumes is that Acta forced Orlando to move to second base, a position he played 37 times in nearly 1804 games total. The rest of the time, Orlando has been patrolling the shortstop position. Acta felt that Asdrubal's time was now.

Asdrubal Cabrera, at 25, is now one of the Tribe elders, and clearly a team leader. Only Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona can claim to have as much or more time with the Tribe in the bigs. Hafner is the DH, and has been a part time player for much of the past three seasons. Other than 2011, he's been nothing more than a struggling bit player. Carmona has been busy playing a game of pitching yo-yo since his break-out 2007 season. Sizemore has been nothing but injured for a season and a half. The only player who can lay claim to being an overall better player over the past four seasons is Choo, who certainly shares the mantle as an unofficial captain of the team.

Watch the Indians fortunes closely this year, and how they relate to Cabrera's play. Choo is currently struggling with a .184 average, with one homer and two RBI. The Indians, however, are thriving under the subtle leadership of one Asdrubal Cabrera. They've won eight games in a row, and are currently at the top of the A.L. Central heap.

While the Tribe starters are certainly a major factor in this newfound winning, Asdrubal is certainly the major cog defensively, and now offensively.

As Cabrera goes, so go the Indians...

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