Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ramon Cabrera

The Pirates signed Ramon Cabrera out of Venezuela in April of 2008. He's the son of Alex Cabrera, who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000 and then went on to become a Japanese legend, hitting 356 homers and winning the MVP in 2002 when he clobbered 55 long balls. Sadly, the name is where the similarities end; Ramon is a 5'7" contact hitter and his dad is a 6'2" slugger. Guess he took after mama.

The fireplug converted to catching right around the time the Buccos inked him as an 18 year old, and he spent the season with the VSL Pirates, hitting .264. He had a good eye, with an equal amount of walks and Ks, and tossed out 40% of attempted base stealers.

He opened 2009 in the VSL, and after 20 games (.312/.400/.468) was send to El Norte to play in the GCL, where he put up a slash of .291/.372/.417. He did OK behind the dish, especially considering it was just his second season there, gunning out 35% of the VSL runners and 29% in Florida.

The next season, he took over the catching duties at Low Class A West Virginia in the Sally League and hit his first speed bump, putting up a line of .269/.312/.342. The average was just OK, and his K-to-BB ratio went up to 2:1, not because he whiffed much but because he wasn't drawing walks, while his usual gap power was missing as he posted his first under-.400 slugging % (.342) in the pros. Cabrera worked 90 games, and his caught stealing rate dropped to 21%. But he was still named a South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star, and was about to break out.

He was assigned to High Class A Bradenton in the Florida State League in 2011 and tore it up at the plate, being named to the All-Star team. Cabrera's slash was .343/.410/.471 and he won the batting title by 20 points. He drew 38 walks, whiffed just 29 times in 379 PA and his doubles stroke was back. More good news was that Ramon hit both lefties and righties equally well.

Every rose has its thorns, and for Cabrera, his were on the defensive side. His caught stealing rate continued to plummet, down to just 13%, and guys took off early and often on him. By comparison, Carlos Paulino, the other Marauder catcher, threw out 29% of the runners. Cabrera also allowed 14 passed balls in 78 games.

It was hard to ignore his stick, though, and he was a non-roster invitee to camp in 2012. Cabrera was then sent to Altoona to be Tony Sanchez's caddy. He didn't get much work behind the plate, though the Curve tried to mitigate that by penciling him in as their as the DH.

Cabrera started off slowly, but the Pirates moved Sanchez to Indy in June. His average was uncharacteristically low at that point, but he was making contact, and in July and August he went on a .346 spree, finishing the year with a slash of .276/.342/.367. That hot spell netted him a spot on the Eastern League All-Star club.

His defense got better, too, as he put up a low but improved 20% throw-'em-out rate, and allowed just five passed balls in 85 games. He moved up to Indy when Jose Morales was injured, but only got into one game (he went 2-for-5) before spraining his ankle.

The Bucs just added him to the 40-man roster, and he'll probably spend his 23 year old season at Indy, backing up Tony Sanchez again, a nice level for his age.

On the plus side, he's a young switch-hitter that makes line-drive contact, has good plate discipline with a resulting high OBP, and has no discernible L/R split who plays a premium position that Pittsburgh is kinda thin at in the upper levels. Cabrera has been an All-Star catcher at three different levels and has a batting title as part of his resume, and has moved up each level without much problem in transition.

And he does have baseball in his blood, and not only thanks to his dad. Venezuela is a hotbed of catchers, the home of Victor Martinez, Ramon Hernandez, Miguel Montero, the Torrealba brothers and a couple of dozen more guys that have strapped on the tools of ignorance for MLB clubs.

But he has never hit more than 3 HR in any season, and is a doubles guy at best. His catching skills as a pitch caller and receiver are actually coming along at an OK rate, but it's unlikely that he'll ever be strong at stopping the running game.

We've seen varying reports on his arm strength, and we admit that the minors are a tough barometer to gauge a catcher's ability to stop runners. But at the last two stops, Paulino and Sanchez have had considerably higher toss out percentages, so most of the problems seems to lie with Cabrera. None of the scouting services have him among the top prospects, and John Sickels has pups Wyatt Mathison and Jin-De Jhang rated above him.

Of course, the big knock is that he's a munchkin. Scouts everywhere seem to like the big 'uns. He's listed as 5'8", 185 pounds by the Bucs, which means he has to look up to Mike McKenry. Call us old school, but that's not something we'd be concerned about. Catchers should be close to the dirt, and so far in his career he's shown no tendency to get overly banged up because of the position.

His lack of a big bat and his troubles tossing out base stealers limit his upside, but with that consistent stick he could easily become a #2 catcher. The only caveat is that gives him more value as an AL player than NL catcher, ala Dewey.

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