Well, it finally happened. Many Padres fans got their wish for a new Middle Infield combination last week when San Diego released the underachieving Orlando Hudson and placed the light-hitting Jason Bartlett on the Disabled List. In a post from last week, I tried to make sense of the Padres’ Middle Infield situation and discussed specific options the team could explore to help. That post however was written when Hudson was still on the roster and Bartlett was not injured, and some new starters have taken over for them. With the recent moves in mind, I thought today would be a good chance for me to discuss my thoughts on San Diego’s “new” Middle Infield of Everth Cabrera and Alexi Amarista.
Everth Cabrera: Last Chance to Stick?
The starter at Shortstop in place of the injured Bartlett is Everth Cabrera, a guy who should be familiar to many of you San Diego fans. Cabrera has been with the big league club on and off for the last four seasons, yet this current stint might be his last chance to fulfill his potential and become a full-time starter.
I personally thought the Padres had found themselves a solid Shortstop prospect in Cabrera after his Rookie season in 2009. Cabrera posted a .255 Batting Average, a .342 OBP, a .361 SLG, a .703 OPS, 31 RBI’s, and 25 Stolen Bases. Considering Petco’s dimensions, and Cabrera’s age and potential, it appeared that he might develop into a solid leadoff hitter for San Diego, a guy who could log 140 games per season, and most of all, a Shortstop which could play consistent baseball. Unfortunately for Everth, injuries, bad luck, and poor play have afflicted him on the field over the last three seasons.
Despite the fact he was viewed as the future of this club at Shortstop in 2010, an injury plus Jerry Hariston Jr.’s emergence during the magical 2010 season kept Cabrera in the Minor Leagues for most of the season, and thus limited his playing time with the big club. Add to that the fact that Bartlett and Hudson were signed last season, and it left Cabrera off the Padres’ roster for most of the season. Now with 4 seasons passed, and others chomping at the bit for a chance to take over at Shortstop, it is now looking like this could be the end of Cabrera’s window to emerge with the club.
It has not helped Cabrera’s cause that he has not done well in his limited chances at the plate over the last three seasons. Over the 2010-2012 seasons combined (heading into Sunday), Cabrera was 45 for his last 229 (.197 Batting Average) and Struck Out 60 Times compared to 20 Walks. Both stats are not ones you would like to see from a guy thought to be a significant contributor in the “getting on base” department.
In addition to his recent struggles at the plate, Cabrera has also had some issues fielding the ball during his time at the big league level. Something which does not bode well for a team looking for a long-term answer at the Shortstop position. During his Rookie season, he made 23 Errors, finished with a Fielding Percentage of .951, and Ranked 1st in Errors committed at the Shortstop position in 2009. If Cabrera wishes to win the job outright, he must prove he is an adequate defender, no questions asked.
As I stated before, 2012 will likely be Cabrera’s last season to prove to the club he is a legitimate starter at Shortstop (or Second Base). The job is his for the taking. He just has to go and take it now while the dust is settling from the recent roster moves. If Everth cannot, San Diego will be again searching for some sort of answer to their Shortstop woes.
Alexi Amarista: “Wild-Card” Has Window to Shine and Must Do It
Amarista intrigues me more than Cabrera simply because his big league statistical sample size (65 Career Plate Appearances) is so small, and I am not really sure what to make of him as a prospect quite yet, and must go off of his collective performance in the Minors.
What I do like from what I have seen so far though is Amarista’s speed and ability to get on base (.333 OBP over first four games with the Padres). Putting him in the #7 or #8 hole in the lineup could help to extend Innings, or even be a “Second Leadoff Man” at the bottom of the order which San Diego could really use.
Like Cabrera, I can live with the fact that Amarista does not hit the long ball, or slug for a very high percentage (although .421 so far this season is not so bad, but still not enough of a sample size). As long as Amarista can get on base on a somewhat consistent basis, like he has shown during his Minor League apprenticeship (.368 OBP in 492 Games), I would enjoy seeing him on the field every day. Plus, it is not like the Padres play in a hitters paradise.
From what I have gathered however, Amarista made a huge spurt development wise in 2010 when he jumped from High-A to Triple-A in the same season. Over that season, Amarista hit a combined .309, logged a .350 OBP, had 25 Stolen Bases, 27 Doubles, 10 Triples, 5 Home Runs, and 68 RBI’s to boot. His play was enough to get him a late season call-up with the Angels during the 2011 season.
In terms of his ability in the field, Amarista proved in the Minors that he has a slick glove and can play Second Base, Shortstop, Left, Right, and Center Field, and even some Third Base when asked to play there as well. While it certainly appears that Amarista will play his more natural and most experienced position of Second Base with the Padres, having a “Swiss-Army Knife” type player on the roster, even for substitution purposes is a valuable asset to possess.
Over 6 Minor League seasons, and over 475 Games, Amarista only made 34 Errors, and 14 of them came during the 2009 season, his first full campaign above Rookie League ball. If Amarista can provide a solid glove at Second Base, he will at least likely make the team as the top utility infielder. But if Amarista can continue to hit, keep his Strikeout to Walk ratio low, and maintain an output near a .275-.280 clip, with a .380 OBP, a .450 Slugging Percentage, and maybe get somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 Steals and 35 to 40 RBI’s, I think the Padres will have found an answer to their Second Base woes. Yet as I stated before, Amarista’s sample size is small, and it is likely too early to project whether or not he can become a consistent contributor for the ballclub. We will just have to play the “waiting game” to see how he pans out over the course of the season.
While it appears that both Cabrera and Amarista have their jobs on lockdown in the present, the window for them to succeed will not stay open for long. Andy Parrino still can get back on the right track from an Offensive standpoint, and Logan Forsythe is slowly coming back from injury and should get more of an extended look at the big league level when he is healthy. Plus, Cory Spangenberg and Jedd Gyorko might be still in the Minors, but both are terrific and consistent hitters, and are two of the Padres’ top prospects.
Now that Hudson is gone and that Bartlett has likely played his final game with the Padres, it is time for the experimentation to commence. Until the end of the season, this be a 120 game audition for both of these guys, and I hope at least one (hopefully both) can have success.
Cabrera will inevitably have the most heat on him, but Amarista will have likely almost as much to prove at Second Base. Alexi has his best chance to shine in the present, and to earn a spot in the big leagues permanently, he must perform at a high level and prove that he is worth sticking around for the Padres’ long-term rebuilding plans. Thus, I am very intrigued to see how each of these guys progresses throughout the season.
Statistics Courtesy of: http://www.baseball-reference.com/