Via Bryan Hoch and Marc Carig, Cesar Cabral is headed for x-rays and an MRI on his left arm. He’s currently in a sling with elbow pain. Joe Girardi acknowledged that Cabral had a great chance to make the team, but the second lefty situation seems to have taken care of itself. Just FYI, he has to spend at least 90 days on the active (non-DL) roster this season, otherwise the Rule 5 Draft rules carry over into 2013.
It as appears as though the Yankees only have one open relief spot at the moment, assuming the loser of the Phil Hughes/Freddy Garcia fifth starter competition heads to the bullpen. With three rounds of roster cuts already in the books, the number of realistic candidates for that last spot is down to just two: left-handers Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral.
The Yankees have been looking for a second left-handed reliever for a few too many years, but now they appear to have a pair of qualified candidates. Rapada and Cabral share handedness but not much else. They’re different pitchers with different styles at different points of their careers. Which one is a better fit for the Yankees?
The Case for Rapada
A 31-year-old journeyman, Rapada has impressed by retiring all but one of the 12 left-handed batters he’s faced this spring. The one exception is a walk (after getting ahead in the count 0-2, no less), but he’s atoned by striking out seven of the remaining 11 batters. Rapada’s big league track record is limited, though he has held the 136 lefties he’s faced to a .153/.252/.200 batting line with a 26.5% strikeout rate. His Triple-A track record is more of the same.
Rapada has been groomed as a lefty specialist since the day he signed with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent in 2002. They dropped his arm angle almost immediately, and now he relies of the deception of his sidearm motion more than sheer stuff — mid-80s heat with a mid-70s slider — to get same-side hitters out. He’s a true LOOGY and has excelled in the role over the last few years. There should be no growing pains.
The Case for Cabral
Cabral, a 23-year-old taken from the Red Sox (via the Royals) in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft has impressed as well this spring. He hasn’t been as good as Rapada, but he’s struck out eight of the 20 left-handers he’s faced while allowing six hits and walking zero. One of those hits was a homer. Cabral moved to the bullpen full time to start the 2010 season, and since then he’s held same-side hitters to a .202/.263/.294 batting line with a 35.4% strikeout rate in 133 PA. That’s mostly at High-A with a little Low-A and Double-A mixed in.
The Yankees obviously like Cabral, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of trading up in the Rule 5 Draft to get him. He’s more of a power pitcher than Rapada, sitting in the low-90s with a changeup and a slurvy slider. The changeup is his best secondary pitch, which theoretically means Cabral could face some right-handed batters and at least hold his own. He has all three minor league options remaining and is under team control through at least 2017. With zero Triple-A or MLB experience, there figures to be more than the usual ups and downs associated with young pitchers.
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Unless something unexpected happens, the Yankees can only break camp with one of the two. Rapada can opt out of his minor league deal at the end of Spring Training, and he’ll surely get a job elsewhere given his spring performance. Because he is out of minor league options, the Yankees won’t be able to add Rapada to the 40-man roster and send him to Triple-A. Cabral simply won’t clear waivers as a Rule 5 Draft pick, he’s been too impressive as well.
The last bullpen spot won’t sink the season, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s really no wrong answer here. Both Rapada and Cabral are worthy of being the second left-handed reliever on a contending team.
For the second straight year, the Yankees have a pair of Rule 5 Draft picks in camp this spring. Right-hander Brad Meyers hurt his shoulder working out over the winter and is behind the other pitchers at the moment, so chances are he will eventually be jettisoned like Dan Turpen and Robert Fish last season. Left-hander Cesar Cabral has a legitimate opportunity to make the team though, plus there’s a chance the Yankees may be able to keep him even without placing him on the Opening Day roster.
Cabral, 23, has already appeared in five exhibition games this spring, the most of anyone on the team. He’s allowed two runs on eight hits in 5.1 IP, striking out three and walking zero. The problem is that he’s given up hits to six of the 14 left-handed hitters he’s faced, including one homer. Obviously a small sample, but he’s got to win a job with that small sample and he’s not getting it done at the moment. I ranked Cabral as the team’s 29th best prospect last month because I like his size (check the photo), performance (2.65 FIP in 194.2 IP last three years), and stuff (low-90s fastball, changeup, slurvy breaking ball). The Yankees obviously like him as well, otherwise they wouldn’t have worked out a pre-Rule 5 Draft trade with the Royals to get him (for an undisclosed amount of cash).
Because he’s a Rule 5 guy for the second time — the Rays took him last year — the rules apply a little differently to Cabral. Rather than be offered back to his original team (the Red Sox) if he fails to make the club, he can instead elect free agency and leverage that into remaining with the Yankees as non-Rule 5 Draft player. The Diamondbacks turned this exact same trick with former Yankees farmhand and two-time Rule 5er Zach Kroenke in 2010, as Nick Piecoro explains…
After the Diamondbacks decided they were not going to put Kroenke on their 25-man roster, they placed him on waivers. Kroenke cleared, which then meant, as a Rule 5 pick, he had to be offered back to the Yankees before he could be outrighted to the minor leagues.
But as a second-time Rule 5 player, Kroenke had the option to elect free agency rather than accept the outright back to the Yankees. He said he would have elected free agency, prompting the Yankees not to request him back.
At that point, he no longer had the rights of a typical Rule 5 player and instead became the equivalent of a normal 40-man guy on the Diamondbacks roster. The Diamondbacks then optioned him to (Triple-A) Reno.
Cabral and the Yankees have the ability to do the same thing Kroenke and the D’Backs did two years ago. The player benefits by remaining on the 40-man roster (going unclaimed on waivers is a pretty strong indicator that no other team would give him a big league contract as a free agent) while the team gets to keep him without restrictions. Cabral has all three minor league options remaining, so if nothing else the Yankees would be securing an up-and-down second lefty reliever for the league minimum through 2014. Not a star, but a potentially useful piece.
As I wrote this morning, there is some merit to carrying a second left-handed reliever early in the season because of the schedule. Some regular Triple-A innings wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Cabral, who has yet pitch above Double-A and could use more time to figure out a breaking ball against same-side hitters. Clay Rapada or even Mike O’Connor probably makes more sense if the team decides to go with the second southpaw in April. Cabral has a nice, intriguing arm and is the kind of guy the Yankees should look into keeping beyond Spring Training. Clearing waivers is not a given, but otherwise the system works in their favor.
The Angels agreed to sign both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this morning, but the Yankees managed to steal the spotlight with their moves during the Rule 5 Draft. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit. The Yankees selected 26-year-old right-hander Brad Meyers from the Nationals with their pick, then later acquired 22-year-old left-hander Cesar Cabral from the Royals for cash. He was Kansas City’s pick from the Red Sox organization. The Yankees did not lose any players during the Rule 5 Draft, and Greg Golson has been released to make room on the 40-man roster.
Meyers was Washington’s fifth round pick in 2007, and Baseball America ranked him as their 27th best prospect prior to last season. “Meyers pounds the zone with a polished four-pitch mix,” they wrote in their Prospect Handbook. “His 88-90 mph fastball bumps 92, and it plays up because of the deceptive angles created by his lanky body [Ed. note: 6-foot-6, 195 lbs.] and high front side in his delivery (video). He has excellent command of his fastball and three secondary pitches: an average changeup, average slider and a short curve that he uses as a show pitch.”
The problem with Meyers has been health, specifically foot problems. He missed some time with a heel injury in 2009, then suffered a stress fracture in his left foot while jogging after the season. He had surgery, returned to the mound, then missed more time because some screws in his foot were giving him trouble. Meyers made 24 starts (and one relief appearance) in 2011, pitching to a 3.18 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and a miniscule 1.0 BB/9 in 138.2 IP. The Yankees are almost certainly looking at him in a long relief role. As per the Rule 5 Draft rules, they must carry him on their 25-man active roster all season or put him on waivers and offer him back to the Nationals.
Cabral is in a slightly different situation. He was a Rule 5 Draft selection last year, so if the Yankees don’t keep him on their active roster but he clears waivers, they don’t have to offer him back to Boston. He can elect free agency if that happens though. Cabral was in the Rays organization at this time last year, though he did not crack their top 30 list in the Prospect Handbook. He owns a low-90’s fastball with a changeup that’s better than his breaking ball, so that doesn’t exactly make him a traditional lefty specialist candidate. Sure enough, he had a reverse split this season and has in the past as well. Here’s some video.
The Yankees apparently liked Cabral enough that they tried to trade with Astros, Twins, and Mariners — owners of the top three picks in the Rule 5 Draft — to make sure they got him. The ended up making the deal with the Royals, who picked fifth. Due to waiver claims and such, Cabral has now been part of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays organizations in the last year or so. Both he and Meyers will audition for jobs in Spring Training, but as is always the case with these guys, they’re unlikely to stick.