Oswaldo Cabrera returns to spotlight as Yankees embrace youthful transition

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Yankees utility player Oswaldo Cabrera is the biggest beneficiary of the team’s pivot to youthful talents late in the season. It has provided him another opportunity to wear pinstripes and he didn’t let the chance slip away.

In the batting cage of Minute Maid Park in Houston, the future of the New York Yankees was on display on September 1. Shortstops Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, center fielder Jasson Dominguez, left fielder Everson Pereira, and catcher Austin Wells proudly posed in their Yankees jerseys. This moment marked the beginning of what the Yankees hoped would be a new era, often referred to as the Baby Bombers, with the previous generation having reached its peak six years prior, falling just one game short of the World Series.

Volpe, Peraza, Dominguez, Pereira, and Wells have consistently ranked highly on various prospect lists for several years, drawing the attention of Yankees fans eager to witness a youth movement. However, among these five promising prospects, utilityman Oswaldo Cabrera was notably absent from the picture. This omission did not go unnoticed by Triple-A hitting coach Trevor Amicone.

Oswaldo Cabrera, who progressed through the Yankees’ minor-league system alongside the others, had never garnered the same level of hype. It wasn’t until 2022 that he made his first appearance on MLB Pipeline’s top prospect list, ranking 14th in the Yankees’ system.

Amicone mentioned that one of the reasons he empathized with Oswaldo Cabrera was when all the other guys came up, they had a group photo, and the player was not included in it. Amicone identified that Oswaldo Cabrera was a leader within that group despite his young age and that all of those guys had benefited from his leadership and friendship.

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When Oswaldo Cabrera’s mother, Yiti, shared the picture with her son and expressed her disappointment over his absence, Oswaldo Cabrera had a different response. He recalled a valuable lesson from his time in the Yankees’ system, imparted by his former manager at the Charleston RiverDogs, Julio Mosquera. The coach consistently told his players, “If you’re not satisfied with your current situation, strive to improve.”

Oswaldo Cabrera also posed a question, asking if his mom had any prior knowledge about him before he made it to the big leagues, suggesting that it might have been only the year before. He explained that there were many years when nobody knew him, and he only started gaining recognition recently. Oswaldo Cabrera shared that when he saw the picture mentioned earlier, it inspired him to become better. He recounted thinking about the picture and how it motivated him to work hard to gain respect and recognition.

The young Yankee mentioned that he didn’t feel any negative emotions but rather saw two choices: to be upset or to use it as motivation. Oswaldo Cabrera emphasized his preference for a positive mindset, believing that positivity could help him achieve his goals and become the person he wanted to be.

Oswaldo Cabrera remains focused on performance

The 2023 season began with high expectations for Oswaldo Cabrera, as he secured the starting left-field position during spring training. However, his performance early in the season revealed that he was not prepared for the role, making him one of the Yankees‘ most significant disappointments. One of the primary issues plaguing Oswaldo Cabrera this season has been his elevated ground-ball rate, which stood at 47.9 percent by August 8th. Notably, his approach at the beginning of the season had changed; he was no longer consistently hitting the ball in the air as he had during his brief stint with the team the previous year.

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Oswaldo Cabrera explained what he had learned about his swing, stating that he had come to realize that his natural swing was effective and didn’t require any major changes. He mentioned that during the first two to three months of the season, he had experimented with various adjustments in his swing, believing they would lead to improvement. However, after returning from Triple-A and discussing it with Trevor, he made some adjustments to his swing, which ultimately brought him to his current level of performance. Oswaldo Cabrera emphasized that he had been using the same swing from 2018 until 2022 and didn’t see the need for a complete overhaul; instead, he focused on refining and enhancing his existing swing.

The young gun attributed the alterations in his swing path at the beginning of the season to the influence of various opinions and advice he had received. During the initial three months of the season, Oswaldo Cabrera noted that he had raised his hand positioning higher than his customary professional stance, which disrupted his timing at the plate. Interestingly, the player had been one of the team’s standout performers during spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster due to his success at the plate. However, his performance took a swift downturn in April.

Oswaldo Cabrera discussed his experience during spring training in Tampa, noting that at the time, nobody was providing much feedback because he was performing well and hitting effectively. However, when he arrived in his current situation and started having hitless games (0-for-4s and 0-for-5s), people began to express concern about his performance. He mentioned that many well-intentioned individuals, including coaches and players, offered advice and positive feedback, but it resulted in him having too many thoughts in his head.

Oswaldo Cabrera explained that the main issue he faced at the beginning of the season was overthinking. He described that he had been trying to process too much information, such as focusing on hitting fly balls, staying within his swing, and positioning his hands correctly. This mental clutter had affected his performance. However, since coming to his current team, he adopted a simpler approach of trying to hit the ball hard, which helped him regain his form.

Get a boost in Triple-A

Oswaldo Cabrera’s season took a turn and experienced some improvement after a conversation with Amicone in August, following his demotion to Triple-A. During this conversation, Amicone and Cabrera analyzed footage of Cabrera’s swing from the previous season, and the contrast was evident. Cabrera described this film session with Amicone as “the most valuable conversation” for him because it didn’t require any physical adjustments in the batting cage; the changes were purely mental.

Amicone discussed the key adjustments made for Oswaldo Cabrera when he returned to the team after his time in the minors. He mentioned that the primary focus was to help him consistently execute his swing in a repeatable manner. This involved getting him back into a position where he could effectively generate power while minimizing swing-and-miss tendencies. Amicone noted that the player had deviated from that approach for some time, for various reasons.

Restoring Oswaldo Cabrera to the point where he could replicate the swing that had previously made him a successful big leaguer was considered the most significant aspect of his development. Additionally, this process also contributed to rebuilding his confidence and swagger, which were essential components of Oswaldo’s identity as a player.

Aaron Judge celebrates with Oswaldo Cabrera, who hit a home run in the Yankees vs. Pirates game on Sept. 16, 2023, at PNC Park.
AP

Since his conversation with Amicone, Oswaldo Cabrera, who is a switch hitter, has transformed his performance against fastballs. He transitioned from a negative 4.7 fastball runs per average, which assesses a hitter’s effectiveness against a specific pitch, prior to August 8, to a positive 2.3 fastball runs per average after his return to the major leagues. By reverting to a swing style that aligns with his comfort zone, Oswaldo Cabrera has delivered the positive outcomes that the Yankees originally envisioned when they believed in his potential as an everyday player.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone expressed his satisfaction with Oswaldo Cabrera’s recent performance, emphasizing the hard work he had put in to improve his game. Boone noted that Oswaldo Cabrera had faced offensive struggles throughout the year but had recently shown consistent and positive at-bats. He pointed out that the young Yankee had not only been successful in terms of getting on base and increasing his walk rate but had also been hitting the ball well, even when making outs. Boone mentioned that Oswaldo had been working on his ability to handle fastballs and was now making solid contact with authority. He credited Oswaldo Cabrera’s dedication and the challenges he had overcome and expressed hope that he would continue to finish the season on a positive note.

During his meeting with Amicone in the previous month, Oswaldo Cabrera appeared to be in a state of uncertainty and was endeavoring to rediscover the qualities that had led him to become a success story within the organization. After being signed from Venezuela for $100,000 in 2015, he had been a promising talent in the Yankees’ ranks. Although Oswaldo Cabrera may not garner the same level of attention as some of the team’s other young prospects, the Yankees maintain their belief in his potential to play a significant role in their future. Despite the relative lack of spotlight, he is determined to demonstrate that he also belongs among the team’s rising talents.

Oswaldo Cabrera shared that his initial recognition by people had come about because of his strong work ethic and his commitment to making a name for himself in the world of baseball. He mentioned that when he saw the picture mentioned earlier, it served as yet another reminder of the effort he needed to continue putting in and he had always been willing to work hard to achieve his goals.

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