Something about Everth

The Padres and their fans have endured a difficult 2009. For a variety of reasons—most of which fall under the categories “not enough hitting” and “not enough pitching”—the Friars are headed toward their second straight 90-loss season. That and the trading away of Jake Peavy, the best starting pitcher in franchise history, have kept fans away from Petco Park this summer. (Attendance is down about 6,000 per game from 2008.)

But amidst the ashes, several young players have had the opportunity to show what they can do at the highest level. Outfielder Kyle Blanks and right-hander Mat Latos may be the brightest stars, but one youngster who has impressed (and surprised) is shortstop Everth Cabrera.

Selected from the Colorado Rockies organization in the Rule 5 draft this past winter, Cabrera has made the jump from Low-A ball look easy. After starting the year on the bench and then missing a couple of months due to a broken left hand, Cabrera returned from the disabled list on June 19 and has played every inning at shortstop since.

Cabrera runs well, has a strong arm, and shows surprising pop for a guy his size. This profile led to the inevitable preseason comparisons to another shortstop who once made the jump from Class-A ball, Rafael Furcal. Many people, myself included, were skeptical that Cabrera could contribute anything close to what Furcal did for the Braves in 2000. Yet as his rookie campaign draws to a close, Cabrera is proving to be a unique talent.

Some comps

How unique? Well, I looked back as far as 1961 (delving even further yields a larger sample, but I wonder how much we can learn about a current player’s possible development path from those additional names (what does Charlie Hollocher‘s 134 OPS+ in 1918 really mean to us?) and found 17 players who met the following criteria:

  • Played first big-league season at age 22, with no previous big-league experience
  • Played at least 50 percent of games at second base or shortstop
  • Logged at least 300 plate appearances

Here are the players, listed by OPS+ in descending order (all stats are through games of August 30, 2009):

(Incidentally, I limited the search to players with no previous experience, because otherwise we’d end up with a bunch of unfair comps for Cabrera. Guys like Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, and Joe Morgan were light years ahead in their development. It’s fun to look at Roberto Alomar‘s 98 OPS+ in 1990, but his 1300 big-league plate appearances before age 22 are very different from Cabrera’s 1000 minor-league plate appearances.)

Acknowledging that Cabrera’s rookie season isn’t complete yet and that his performance may slip before all is said and done, a couple points are worth noting about 22-year-old rookie middle infielders:

  • Most of them don’t hit much
  • Most of them go on to have careers

Here are the career totals for each of these players (not including Cabrera):

Player G PA BA OBP SLG OPS+
Ron Hunt 1483 6158 .273 .368 .347 104
Robinson Cano 702 2913 .305 .337 .477 111
Pete Rose 3562 15861 .303 .375 .409 118
Rafael Furcal 1272 5745 .283 .349 .406 95
Chuck Knoblauch 1632 7385 .289 .378 .406 106
J.J. Hardy 558 2250 .262 .323 .431 95
Jerry Remy 1154 4963 .275 .327 .328 83
Mariano Duncan 1279 4998 .267 .300 .388 86
Rob Andrews 493 1641 .251 .318 .298 76
Jack Brohamer 805 2795 .245 .306 .327 79
Luis Alicea 1341 4613 .260 .346 .369 88
Enzo Hernandez 714 2612 .224 .283 .266 61
Rey Quinones 451 1668 .243 .287 .357 74
Hector Torres 622 1889 .216 .260 .281 56
Omar Vizquel 2727 11238 .273 .339 .355 83
Spike Owen 1544 5615 .246 .324 .341 83

Rose skews the curve, and some of these guys are still active, but if you add all their numbers together and average them, you end up with a career that looks like this: 1271 G, 5147 PA, .274/.342/.373. That’s basically Delino DeShields, which isn’t too shabby.

A few players (Andrews, Brohamer, Hernandez, Quinones, and Torres) didn’t make a substantial impact, but none of them showed anything with the bat as rookies. And even initial lack of offensive production is no guarantee of future failure. Vizquel is mentioned these days as a possible Hall of Famer, while Owen spent 13 years in the big leagues. On the flip side, none of the youngsters who hit right away at the big-league level ever slipped much.

Here I must add the obligatory reminder that we are observing history (and a small subset of it at that), not predicting the future. The fact that Cabrera is hitting like Hunt at the same age tells us that this has happened before, and that is all.

Is this a good sign? Sure. It was good for Hunt that he proved himself capable of handling big-league pitching at such an early age, and the same holds true in Cabrera’s case.

That disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a closer look at some of these guys.

Ron Hunt

Hunt hit .272/.334/.396 as a rookie with the Mets in 1963. He displayed good range but led National League second basemen with 26 errors. Hunt finished second (to Rose) in Rookie of the Year voting. Throughout his 12-year career, Hunt displayed excellent on-base skills (mainly due to a legendary ability to get hit by pitches—he once led the league for seven straight seasons, including an almost unfathomable 50 in 1971).

Hunt made the jump directly from Double-A Austin of the Texas League, where he hit .309/.376/.396 in 1962. Despite skipping a level, Hunt saw little decline in performance on arriving in the big leagues. His batting average slipped a tad, and his BB/SO went from freakish (51/42) to good (40/50), but essentially his skills held.

Robinson Cano

Cano hit .297/.320/.458 for the Yankees in 2005, showing nice pop. Among players in our group, he led in doubles, homers, RBIs, and ISO. He also finished last in walks, with 16. Cano still doesn’t draw walks, but that is a problem only when his batting average dips below .300, as it did in 2008. Right now, his career looks a lot like that of Carlos Baerga, which is great as long as Cano doesn’t suddenly stop hitting at age 27.

Prior to his arrival in New York, Cano split 2004 between Double-A Trenton (.301/.356/.497) and Triple-A Columbus (.259/.316/.403). His combined line of .283/.339/.457 looks suspiciously like what he did as a rookie in the big leagues. Again, Cano’s career is still happening, but the early returns are positive.

Pete Rose

Rose hit .273/.334/.371 as a rookie with the Reds in 1963. He committed nearly as many errors (22) as Hunt that year, while showing inferior range. The rest of Rose’s career has been well documented, so we’ll just say here that he did pretty well for himself on the field.

When Rose arrived in Cincinnati, it was straight from Class-A Macon of the South Atlantic League, where he had hit .330/.430/.500 a year earlier. As was the case with Hunt, Rose saw his BB/SO slide (from 95/61 at Macon in ’62 to 55/72 in Cincy the next year). Rose’s numbers fell across the board, which shouldn’t be too surprising given that he skipped Double- and Triple-A.

Rafael Furcal

The first shortstop on our list, Furcal hit .295/.394/.382 for Atlanta in 2000. He also swiped 40 bases and showed above-average range while committing a slew of errors. All of this made him National League Rookie of the Year.

The comparison of Cabrera to Furcal works on many levels. Both are switch-hitters who run well, get on base, and drive the ball into the gaps. Both are flashy shortstops with strong arms. Both jumped from Class-A to the majors.

Furcal hasn’t progressed much since his rookie campaign. His power has improved, but his on-base skills have declined. He’s become sort of a cross between Jay Bell and Tony Fernandez.

The year before he made his big-league debut, Furcal hit .337/.417/.397 at Macon and then got into 43 games at High-A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League, where he hit .293/.343/.375. Between the two stops, he stole 96 bases.

As long as we’re talking about Furcal, here’s a straight comparison of his and Cabrera’s age 21 season in Class-A ball:

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
Furcal 126 519 105 167 24 4 1 41 96 30 55 78 .322 .392 .389
Cabrera 121 479 80 136 25 6 6 38 73 16 51 101 .284 .361 .399

Those are two pretty similar lines. Furcal hit for a better average and stole more bases; Cabrera hit for more power and was a better percentage base stealer.

Other comps

We could continue examining players on our original list, but that’s only one way of looking at things. At this point, it might be instructive to shift perspective.

Our original question was, “How have middle infielders who made their big-league debut at age 22 as full-time starters fared?” Here’s another: “How have players who hit like Cabrera has at age 22 fared, regardless of position?”

To answer this, I searched for players since 1961 who met the following criteria:

  • Were age 22
  • Logged at least 300 plate appearances
  • Posted OBP within 10 points of Cabrera’s
  • Posted SLG within 10 points of Cabrera’s

It’s a short list (and one that will cause Padres fans to cringe):

The average career of the five guys above not named Cabrera looks like this: 1565 G, 5849 PA, .262/.339/.391. That’s roughly Tony Bernazard, who was a pretty good ballplayer before he, uh, je ne sais quoi.

The one youngster who flamed out was Burroughs, who didn’t become the John Olerud some of us thought he would become (or even Bill Mueller, not that I’m bitter or anything), but instead played what appears to have been his final big-league game at age 25. The others all enjoyed fine careers.

Speier is probably the best comp here. He never broke double digits in stolen bases, but he was a natural shortstop and a solid defender who occasionally contributed with the bat. In the post-Ripken era, a player like Speier isn’t necessarily given the recognition he deserves, but the man played more than 2200 big-league games and made three All-Star teams (all before age 25, but still).

The point

If history is any indicator—and that is a big and unknowable “if”—Cabrera looks to be in pretty good shape at this stage of his career. Bearing in mind that we are dealing with a small sample, in terms of both Cabrera’s performance (300 plate appearances isn’t a lot to go on) and the list of potential comps (a total of 21 players between the two groups we examined), there are reasons to be encouraged by the early returns:

  • Not many middle infielders make their big-league debut at age 22 and hold a starting job; including Cabrera this year, there have been just 17 such players since 1961
  • Most of those that do meet the above criteria don’t hit much; of those 17, only four (assuming Cabrera doesn’t go into a horrible slump over the final month) notched an OPS+ of 100 or higher
  • Regardless of whether they hit, middle infielders who reach the big leagues at that age and hold a starting job tend to stick around a while; of the 17 we’ve examined, 9 have played 1000 or more games (and three more—Cano, Hardy, and Cabrera—all have a chance to do the same)
  • Most 22-year-olds who hit like Cabrera enjoy successful careers, although this is a dangerously small sample

Cabrera is a better hitter at the same age than a lot of these players were. I don’t see his career going in the direction of, say, Andrews, Brohamer, or Hernandez. Those guys simply didn’t hit, not when they were 22, not when they were 32.

Out of all the names on these lists, the two that give me pause are Hardy and Burroughs. Neither of them had the speed tool that Cabrera posseses, and Burroughs didn’t play shortstop, but both came up at an early age and enjoyed a certain degree of success. Hardy’s career took a serious step backward this year, at age 26, and we’ve already touched on Burroughs’ premature decline. Sometimes, for whatever reason, players simply don’t develop.

That said, barring complete collapse (it’s not just Burroughs; see also Quinones and Baerga), Cabrera should be a useful player going forward. Furcal seems about right in terms of upside, with worst-case scenario (non-collapse division) being something in the Duncan/Speier range.

Next steps? Watch and wait. Meet back here in 10 years and laugh.

References & Resources
Baseball Reference.

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Comments

  1. Rob McQuown said...

    Great writeup, Geoff!  I was asking the “fantasy” crew a couple weeks ago if anyone had inputs about Everth, as I’d received a trade offer for him in a Scoresheet league. smile

    I have some minor notes:

    1. Comparing him to -10/+10 OPS players probably understates the impact of his home park, right?  I know he’s the sort of guy who probably isn’t badly harmed by that park, but still.

    2. I wouldn’t let Hardy’s career give you “pause”.  If Everth gets to age 25 as robustly as Hardy did, we can re-evaluate from there.  And his career stats (including his crappy 2009) are still decent for a slick-fielding shortstop, besides…

    3. I personally view speed as more of a separator of talents than most analysts do, and agree with your comment to the effect that using Hardy as a comp isn’t quite satisfying due to the differences in speed.

    Anyway, thanks for the info… this is a guy about whom it was very hard to find any good information.

  2. Geoff Young said...

    @Jick: Okay, that is awesome. I may have to steal your tradition and use it in my own home. And yeah, Venable has been fun to watch.

    @Rob: Good points, all. Responses to each:

    1. Very true. With this type of comparison, I am hoping to find players that have similar “shapes.” But the +/-10 technique is just one of many relatively painless ways to get a rough idea of similar types of players, and park factors certainly should not be ignored.

    2. I could live with Hardy production (albeit in a different shape).

    3. After sifting through the data, I kept coming back to Furcal, mainly because of the speed tool. It’s a little weird when the observations of visual scouts mesh so well with what the statistics show us. Weird, but cool.

    Thanks for the comments, guys. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Jick said...

    This Padres season hasn’t been all bad, in spite of all the losing. I like watching Will Venable, too.

    Cabrera has been fun, mostly because every time he comes to the plate my friends and I always use his name as an excuse to quote from O, Brother, Where Art Thou? Our current favorite is “Gopher, Everth?”

  4. Adam Guttridge said...

    Everth had been a favorite sleeper of mine, and many Rockies fans were miffed that we left him unprotected.

    I think the organization felt there was a low chance he’d be selected, especially considering he’s not any kind of huge ceiling guy.
    Kevin Towers is the best in the game when it comes to finding 4th starters, platoon players, and meaningful bullpen contributions on the free talent markets. Here’s his latest and greatest example.

    However, I think two things temper Everth’s long term value: A) Sorry, but Cabrera has no business sporting a .340 BABIP. He’s not that strong, and he does not find the barrel with Tony Gwynn precision. SO regress that BA, and his season is suddenly quite a bit less impressive. Although not massively. B) He has no real power projection. And frankly, the modest power displayed in his ~300 MLB PA’s has a flukish tinge to it, because that ISO is above what it was a year ago in the Sally League (and Asheville is a little bandbox).

    If he tightens up his contact rate a bit—which he has plenty of time to do—he has enough speed, BB rate, and defensive value to be an everyday player. But Rafael Furcal? Man… I guess anything is possible, but that seems well outside the likely range of career paths.

  5. Geoff Young said...

    @Adam: I thought the same about Cabrera’s power, but then I saw him drive a ball or three off the center field wall at Petco. Assuming he doesn’t get homer happy, a la Quilvio Veras (another former Padre he reminds me of, although Veras was older when he came up and played second base), that should be enough to keep defenses honest. Cabrera is going to hit a lot of triples in that park.

    As for career paths, it sounds like you have something in mind for Cabrera. I’m interested to hear who you think he is like.

  6. Geoff Young said...

    Makes sense. Veras and Furcal are fairly similar offensive players, with Veras having better on-base skills (.270/.372/.362) and Furcal better power (.284/.349/.406). The one potential sticking point is the fact that Veras was two years older than Cabrera as a rookie.

    As for Towers, I will have to think about that. Ironically enough, one thing I used to take him to task for was his Rule 5 picks (Shane Victorino turned out okay, but he was pretty useless here). Good question…

  7. Adam Guttridge said...

    The comps game can be very tricky, but as a matter of fact, Quilvio Veras might be as good of one as I could come up with (offensively, at least).

    Combined with potentially plus defense (early reports were that he projects solid, though not studly or anything), that’s a pretty darn useful player. But of course, that peak is a ways down the road.

    On a tangential point… I can tell you’re a big Pads fan. Kevin Towers, at many times, strikes me as the best GM in the game… primarily for the reasons I mentioned above. I’d like to hear a diehard Pads’ fan’s opinion of where/how he has gone wrong… I’d love to hear the short version, but it might make an interesting article for oyu as well.

  8. Rob McQuown said...

    Kevin Towers, at many times, strikes me as the best GM in the game… primarily for the reasons I mentioned above. I’d like to hear a diehard Pads’ fan’s opinion of where/how he has gone wrong…

    I’m not the Padres fan here, but I’ve also sort of admired Towers’ work from afar over the years and agree that he does a lot of things exceptionally well.  A couple of my from-a-distance observations:

    1. I didn’t fully understand the decision to replace Bochy.  I know he was only about .500 as Pads manager, and he’s not Mike Scioscia, but he seemed to get pretty good results out of the talent he had.

    2. I do think that a laundry list of “where Kevin Towers went wrong” has to include turning a first overall pick into Matt Bush.  Sure, that was a pretty weak first round in retrospect, but I can’t remember a pick which was more surprising – and also less well respected – than the Matt Bush pick.

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