Cabrera, Sabol get chance to shine at Aflac Classic
Yordy Cabrera's days as a prospect nearly came to a crashing end before ever getting started.
Three years ago, Lakeland (Fla.) High head coach Mike Campbell took a few of his players to a tournament in Alabama to get them in a unique atmosphere—one away from home, where they could concentrate on baseball against top competition.
In between games on that trip, several team members were playing around in their hotel room. One thing led to another, and the team's star two-way player, Cabrera, was pushed and tripped over a bag in front of the hotel room window. Cabrera crashed through the window and his hand got caught in its frame, nearly severing his left thumb.
"We thought he was going to lose his thumb. We took him to the hospital and he was bleeding like a stuck pig," Campbell said. "The doctor had to shoot Novocain in him, and you could see all the way down into there. Every shot they gave him in the thumb, you could just feel it, it was really painful. I felt bad for him. He was in so much pain, it was just breaking your heart."
Yordy Cabrera (Photo by Alyson Boyer
Cabrera has since regained full range of motion in his hand, and the injury hasn't affected his ability. He had no bone or tendon damage and was back on the field less than three weeks later. But it did affect his coach's opinion of his player.
"At the time, he didn't know how things would turn out," Campbell said. "But he never had any remorse about it. He was very positive and upbeat to his teammates. To see his attitude and the way he handled that situation me that there's a lot of substance to this man. It was very special."
It was even more impressive because Cabrera was still adjusting to a new lifestyle and learning a new language.
"It was pretty hard," Cabrera said. "Everything changed. People couldn't understand me and would make fun of me."
Before starting his freshman year of high school, at 14 years old, Cabrera moved from the Dominican Republic to Florida. He joined his father, who played seven years in the minors from 1986 to 1992, and started coaching minor league baseball in 1993. Now, Basilio Cabrera manages the Tigers' Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team.
And that has been Yordy's biggest asset. For the past four years, he has lived within walking distance—less than a mile away—of Tigertown at Joker Marchant Stadium. Cabrera works out with professional players during spring training and in the weight room to continue gaining strength.
"I go there pretty much every single day," Cabrera said. "My dad has taught me everything I know, and he's been very influential in my life."
Cabrera has a strong, athletic body—6-foot-4 and 190 pounds—plays both positions on the left side of the infield and is a righthanded pitcher. He has a big lower half, is broad shouldered and has long limbs and big hands, all measurables scouts use to identify amateur players.
"From a shortstop's perspective, he might become too big of a man. He's a big kid now, but his tools are allowing him to stay there, and you have to give him every opportunity to stay there," one National League scout said. "But he could also move to right field, where he can make use of his speed and arm, as opposed to third. He's a Mike Cameron type of guy. The pitching is going to be a moot point, because he's an everyday guy."
On the mound, Cabrera sits 91-93 mph with his fastball, though touches 95, and also throws a 78-80 mph changeup as well as a 75-76 mph curveball. He uses that arm strength from shortstop, where he also flashes a good glove, and is a balanced fielder. He has the ability to hit for both average and power, which is generated from good bat speed, and has been clocked in the 6.6 seconds range in the 60-yard dash.
But Cabrera's on-the-field abilities can be best summarized in one way: "Every now and then you hear guys talk about something amazing happening, you call it the 'wow' factor," Campbell said. "For example, I saw Andrew McCutchen hit a triple against Atlanta the other night. In a flash he was standing on third on a hit to the right field gap. That's the kind of play where you go, 'Wow, look at that.' Yordy's got a lot of the 'wow' factor in him."
Cabrera's next chance to show off his talents will come at the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic, featuring 40 of the nation's top high schoolers on Aug. 16 at Petco Park in San Diego. Cabrera will play for the East squad, which includes other top-ranked rising seniors, including A.J. Cole, Karsten Whitson, Steson Allie and Cameron Bedrosian.
At this point, it is unclear whether Cabrera will be better suited as a position player or a pitcher, though he sees himself first as an everyday player. Cabrera has committed to play collegiately at Miami, but if he opts to play professionally, could take the path of Casey Kelly, a fellow Floridian with a similar body type who was selected in the first round in 2008 by the Red Sox. Kelly, the 6-foot-3 190-pounder from Sarasota, Fla., played the first half of this season as a pitcher, and is playing the second half as a shortstop.
Scouts have projected Cabrera as a first-round pick in next year's draft, and his father has said he's ready to play low class A ball now. Regardless of his future playing baseball, Cabrera is nearly a 4.0 student and is a leader in his high school's Latin American organizations, tutoring fellow students.
"He's a special kid," Campbell said. "He's going to be a tremendous ambassador to this game. He's a blessing, a breath of fresh air and a great kid."
It all started with a ball and a string attached to a tee. That's how Stefan Sabol first learned to hit a baseball. And now, that has turned into a love for the game and a powerful hitting stroke.
"Ever since I started playing and hitting off that tee, I just couldn't get away from it," Sabol said. "I just fell in love with baseball, and my dad has always been there to support me. We always joke about where we first started, how that was my first real piece of equipment, and where we are now. It's come a long way."
So has Sabol, going from a young, tee-ball playing kid to a chiseled 6-foot-2, 208-pound man. He closely monitors his playing weight to ensure he neither gains nor loses too much at once. Though the rumor that he has never eaten a potato chip or had a sip of soda is false, Sabol is truly an imposing physical specimen.
Stefan Sabol (Photo by David Stoner)
"I'm not as psycho as that one thing said before, but I try to do my best to stay in shape," Sabol said. "I drank soda when I was younger, but I haven't had it in—I don't know how long. The unhealthiest thing I drink is sweet tea. And I actually had a little bag of chips last night, but I usually don't eat chips unless I'm starving and there's nothing to eat."
Sabol's mother prepares most of his meals to include as much protein as possible, usually chicken or steak, and some kind of rice for healthy carbohydrates. He mostly drinks water, Vitamin Water and chocolate milk. Sabol also works out at least 30-45 minutes every day during baseball season to keep his muscles fresh, and works out more extensively in the offseason.
Though most people expect Sabol to be Italian or Dominican, he's neither of those nationalities. His mother is 100 percent Samoan—she moved to the United States when she was 12—and his father is 100 percent Croatian. His mother's side gave him height, and his father's side gave him strength.
"He's beyond-his-years strong, just crude strength, a stronger-than-everyone-else kind of guy," one American League scout said. "He's a physically put together young man, long and lean. And the history with Samoans are that they get to be big men."
While Sabol has broad shoulders, a trim waste and bear claws for hands that make him look the part, he can play the part too. He spends the majority of his playing time behind home plate, but has the athleticism to play first base and a corner outfield position. As a backstop, his pop times are in the 1.9-second range and runs a 6.6 in the 60. At the plate, he sprays line drives to all fields, keeping his bat on the plane of the ball through the zone.
"The microscope wasn't on him that much when I saw him, but he did some things that gave me the initial reaction of Manny Ramirez with the bat," the AL scout said. "Raw, strong, naturally talented kid. The gauge for me is to look for kids who can hit the ball the other way, and he worked center and the right-field gap."
His body structure and abilities have led some talent evaluators, including Aliso Niguel (Calif.) High head coach Craig Hanson, to compare Sabol to Jason Kendall with more power.
"That's a very good comparison, but Stefan has big-time power potential too," Hanson said. "Just comparing him talent-wise to the guys in our league, like last year (lefthanded pitcher) Tyler Matzek (Rockies first-round pick, 11th overall, in 2008), Stefan has that ability. He could be that kind of guy."
Sabol will next try to prove where he stacks up among the class of 2010 at the Aflac game in mid-August. Fellow catcher Bryce Harper, along with top prospects James Taillon, Brian Ragira and Kris Bryant, join Sabol on the West team.
With the draft still 10 months away, Sabol committed to play college baseball at Oregon. Though it's harder to project where catchers will be selected, the AL scout said he did not see much difference between Sabol and Cameron Garfield, a 2009 second-round pick by the Brewers. In fact, Sabol has a faster 60 time and a stronger arm than Garfield did. And though he may project more as an outfielder, Sabol said he would like to stay behind the plate and embraces strapping on the tools of ignorance and being in control of the game.
Hanson had confidence in Sabol as a player from early in his high school career. After starting his freshman year on junior varsity, Hanson called Sabol up after three games. In his first varsity game, Sabol knocked in a game-winning hit against Woodbridge High. Then, in his sophomore year, Hanson started letting Sabol call pitches in select situations. As a junior, Sabol nearly had free reign to call the game.
"He showed everyone his talent right away," Hanson said. "Talent like his is rare at the high school level. But character, coachability and work ethic are the first three things that come to mind when I think of Stefan. He's just a baseball rat."
So much so that Sabol said almost everything he does revolves around baseball.
"I'll do whatever it takes for this game," he said. "I love everything about it."