Rockies' Cabrera Finds His Curve In Double-A

FRISCO, Texas—After leading all of minor league baseball in strikeouts last season, Rockies lefthander Edwar Cabrera isn't worrying about increasing his whiffs. Instead, the 24-year-old Cabrera is working on developing his curveball and lowering his home run total with Double-A Tulsa.

Cabrera split the 2011 season between low Class A Asheville and high Class A Modesto, going a combined 8-3, 3.34 in 26 starts and finishing with 217 strikeouts and 41 walks in 167 innings. He has continued that success in his Double-A debut. Through 12 starts, Cabrera was 5-4, 3.55 in 76 innings. He ranked 10th in the Texas League in ERA and fourth in strikeouts (63), and had walked just 19 batters.

"It's different here because the hitters have more experience," Cabrera said. "Sometimes I get nervous. But I have my stuff and I believe in myself and the work I'm doing."

Tulsa pitching coach Dave Schuler has been impressed with Cabrera's all-around tools.

"He's so athletic and he's so coachable. That's a coach's dream," Schuler said. "He has the great changeup and we've been adding on this year, adding on in the areas that he won't be predictable."

And being so coachable has definitely been a big asset thus far. "I don't have to say it twice to him," Schuler said. "He's a seeker of information and wants to make himself better all the time. That kind of desire really makes him what he is. When you explain to him why (you want him to do something), he picks right up on it. You say one thing to him and it goes into a bank in there."

Mixing It Up

Cabrera signed with the Rockies out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. He got himself on the radar in his first full season in the U.S. in 2010, when he led the short-season Northwest League in strikeouts with 87 in 73 innings for Tri-City, and he carried that momentum into his breakout 2011 campaign.

During his first three years of pro ball, Cabrera was known as a big, athletic starter who used his changeup as his out pitch. It wasn't hard to understand why, as he generates deceiving arm speed on the change and had the confidence to throw it no matter the count.

However, he spent a good part of this past offseason working on his curveball and has shown he is much more comfortable with the pitch through the first two months of this season.

"Yeah, it's more comfortable but I need to work more on my curveball because I need it here. I want to pitch in the big leagues this year," Cabrera said. "If I am going to do that, I will need it for sure. My curveball is coming out better now. It's sharper and much better."

Schuler is also encouraged by Cabrera's progress and increased comfort level throwing his curve, but added that as much as he has improved that pitch it will still never define him.

"It's not going to make him a curveball pitcher, but it's now a pitch the hitter has to honor," he said. "He has been able to get some lefties out with it. He threw his first back-foot curve to a righty for a strikeout last outing. He's gaining confidence in it. The spin is good."

Cabrera opened this season on Colorado's 40-man roster and went to big league camp during spring training for the first time. He only got to appear in two Cactus League games, allowing three runs in four innings, but he made the most of the opportunity to work with several big league starters, taking their words of wisdom to heart.

"I was working with (Jhoulys) Chacin. He's a really good guy. I worked with (Juan) Nicasio. He's my really good friend. Jorge de la Rosa, I was working with him," he said.

The Rockies have had outstanding success developing pitchers out of their Latin American program, most notably producing Ubaldo Jimenez and following him with Chacin and Nicasio. Cabrera could be the next in that line.

But if there was one veteran he got the most out of working with it might have been the most experienced pitcher in anyone's camp: Jamie Moyer.

"He taught me a couple of things about how I can pitch this season and in the big leagues," Cabrera said. "He's a really good person. He said I need more experience right now. He said you're going to the big leagues, maybe soon."

Not There Yet

However, there is one area of considerable concern when it comes to this lefty. Through 11 starts, Cabrera had allowed a league-leading 13 home runs. He surrendered 18 combined in 2011 and it's definitely a trend he's aware of.

"I am working on keeping my fastball down in the zone, throwing it at more of an angle and staying back with my mechanics," he said. "Now I want to pitch down in the zone for contact."

Being a veteran pitching coach, seeing a young hurler struggle with keeping the ball down is nothing new for Schuler. But he sees an easy solution for Cabrera and his high home run totals. 

"The fastball command, when he's locked in, he's pretty good. When he keeps his intensity level up pitch-to-pitch, he's tough," Schuler said. "That's what I've been working on—trying to execute every pitch and trying to get good down angles on his fastball. The only time he gets hurt is when he elevates his fastball and he throws a really light ball, so as soon as that barrel hits the ball, it just goes. So he's got to keep the ball down."

And he attributes most of the home runs Cabrera has given up this season to something simple. "Just a flat fastball, the trajectory of the pitch is not down angled and that's his battle," Schuler said. "Some of his mechanics are conditioned to the changeup, so he's got to always make a little more effort to get the extension that he needs on that fastball to get it down. Knowing that, it's there for him. He can make adjustments pitch-to-pitch better now."

But like everything else, his current pitching coach has no doubt that Cabrera will keep doing whatever it takes to continue improving and also to reach his ultimate goal of pitching in the big leagues.

"If he's not getting the results, he's going to make a change because the glass is always half full for him," Schuler said. "He seems to be able to do the things he needs to do to keep moving forward. He's on that mission."

Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.