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Insider

Asdrubal Cabrera on a home run binge

4/13/2011

I check out the ESPN Player Rater from time to time, even in mid-April, just to get a chuckle at some of the names at the top, but also because I can occasionally learn things. For example, I'm happy to see Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp first on the list entering Wednesday's game since I was one of his backers in March. But at the same time, it has been only two weeks. He's also joined in the top 20 by such players as Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata, Arizona Diamondbacks utility guy Willie Bloomquist and everyone's folk hero, Sam Fuld, which makes me reconsider if any of it matters. After all, guys with a lot of stolen bases tend to rank high on the Player Rater.

However, I did note that as of Tuesday afternoon, there was just one player in the Player Rater top 10 with the last name of Cabrera, and it wasn't Detroit Tigers stud Miguel Cabrera. Rather it was Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Yeah, it's early, and later on Tuesday, Miggy drove in the winning run and Asdrubal was one of many Indians dominated by Dan Haren, so they ended up switched by Wednesday. Then again, since the top middle infielder on the Rater is the spunky Indian, and he is now up to 97.8 percent owned, I figured it was time to take a closer look at the "other" Cabrera (we'll leave out Orlando, Melky, Everth and golf's Angel Cabrera for now).

Cabrera was the 19th shortstop off the board in ESPN average live drafts, a 22nd-rounder overall. That seems low, considering we at ESPN Fantasy ranked him 14th at the position. Essentially, fantasy owners decided they'd rather have Ryan Theriot, J.J. Hardy and Miguel Tejada, among others, which is something I didn't agree with. Then again, I can't say I considered Cabrera anywhere close to a top-10 option, either. Cabrera has been a big leaguer for four seasons, and has a career high of six home runs and 17 stolen bases. His 2009 campaign featured those numbers, along with a .308 batting average and 81 runs scored, and I considered that about as good as it could get for him. Cabrera missed a few months last season because of a broken arm, but even when he was active, he didn't do much at the plate to warrant fantasy attention.

So far this season, he has hit four homers and knocked in 10 runs (in 11 games), while hitting .289. While this is obviously more power than anyone expected, there's also no evidence to suggest he can sustain this excellent start. Cabrera hit his two home runs as a left-handed batter against Dan Wheeler and Tyler Chatwood, the former a noted fly ball reliever who has allowed 36 home runs over the past four seasons and the latter a 21-year-old rookie making his major league debut. Cabrera also homered against lefties Jason Vargas and Erik Bedard in Seattle's spacious ballpark, which is more of a feat. Regardless, Cabrera is far more likely to earn fantasy love by hitting for average, stealing bases and scoring runs than he is trying to circle the bases on one swing.

In fact, until homering against Vargas last Friday, Cabrera hadn't hit a home run while batting right-handed since 2008, so while his career slugging percentage currently is higher against southpaws than against righties, don't overrate this. Cabrera can hit doubles, but he really hasn't hit for home run power against any pitchers on a consistent basis until the past week, and it's not likely to continue. He also has hit more than eight home runs in any minor league season, and never more than two in any major league month. I understand adding players off to hot starts, but it's entirely possible that Cabrera still finishes shy of double digits in homers, even though manager Manny Acta claims Cabrera is still developing as a hitter. I understand that, since Cabrera is only 25 years old, but still, this is a surprising start. I could have seen four stolen bases by now, but not four home runs.

Indians shortstops aren't exactly known for their power. Yes, Jhonny Peralta and Julio Franco had a little pop, but generally we've seen more Omar Vizquel and Felix Fermin types over the past, oh, half-century or so, since Woodie Held in the early 1960s. Held was the last Indian to hit four or more home runs in the team's first 10 games.

ESPN Fantasy projected Cabrera for eight home runs, 55 RBIs and 12 stolen bases, and while I'd up the power just a bit thanks to his good start, I'll still take the under on 15 home runs. Own Cabrera for what he has shown in the past, but don't expect Stephen Drew or Alexei Ramirez numbers.