Yankees’ emergency infielder is taking a page from All-Star teammate

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Apr 5, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Oswaldo Cabrera (95) against the Philadelphia Phillies during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t too long ago that Gleyber Torres was in an ugly two-year slump that brought his long-term future with the Yankees into question. Searching for answers after the Yankees acquired Josh Donaldson and placed him on the bench for Opening Day in 2022, he would get back to his power-first approach and have a bounce-back season. The first half of that season was excellent, but just like the 2022 team, everything fell apart in August. Trade rumors swirled of the front office nearly packaging him and Oswald Peraza for Pablo Lopez, but he responded in 2023 with an excellent season.

A new toe tap would spearhead his most consistent season at the plate since 2019, cutting his strikeout rate to 14.6% while smacking 25 home runs. Oswaldo Cabrera now finds his career in flux after a miserable season at the plate last year, and he seems to be turning to that very same toe tap to try and find the answers to his problems. DJ LeMahieu will open the season on the IL, and this might be the young infielder’s final chance to earn a starting job in the big leagues.

Oswaldo Cabrera Could Be Vital to the Yankees’ 2024 Season

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees
Mar 18, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Oswaldo Cabrera (95) runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the third inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

When you Google the word infectious, the definition that appears is “likely to be transmitted to people, organisms, etc., through the environment”, and while that’s correct, the Yankees would use just two words: Oswaldo Cabrera. The 25-year-old infielder always seems to have a smile on his face, eager to handle the next challenge and take on whatever the team asks of him, which made it all the more heartbreaking to watch him fail. It’s one thing to disappoint; Anthony Volpe didn’t necessarily have the season we hoped for offensively, but his glove and speed made him a league-average shortstop.

Oswaldo Cabrera was not an MLB-caliber player last season, posting a 60 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR, and that’s not being mean, as the Yankees felt the same way. He was optioned multiple times during the season, only returning to fill out a roster that experienced a slew of injuries at the worst possible time. Last year crushed his stock, going from an exciting young player to one that we often think about as a detriment to the roster’s quality, and changes were necessary to get him back to the player he was coming through the organization.

The change he’s made? Going from a leg kick to a toe tap, which is the same tweak that Gleyber Torres made in 2023 to help him find consistency with his power and contact. Originally trying it in two-strike counts, Cabrera has begun utilizing it all the time, and he’s had a great stretch run to end his Spring Training.

The big change has been hitting the ball in the air consistently, as his average launch angle is at 26.3° in the 11-game hot stretch whereas it was just 12.1° in the first nine games. Granted, this is a remarkably small sample size, but the biggest declines we saw with Cabrera came in the form of his launch angle distribution. His flyball rate decreased, the groundball rate increased, and his overall launch angle dropped 7.1°, which came with a serious dropoff in power and production. A lot of analysts have blamed a loft-oriented swing for Cabrera’s struggles, but it’s a more old-school approach that did him in.

Selling out for contact comes with a power decline, something Gleyber Torres initially experienced in 2023 as he slugged .413 in the first half before shifting to that toe tap. When you change your load, oftentimes you’re trying to adjust to improve your timing, something that Cabrera talked about losing sight of in an article last September with The Athletic.

For the first three months, Cabrera said he had his hands higher than he was used to since becoming a professional ballplayer. It messed with his timing. 

‘The picture that’s fueling Yankees’ Oswaldo Cabrera heading into 2024 season’ (via Chris Kirschner of The Athletic)

Last September I also wrote a piece about Oswaldo Cabrera, and there was something that stood out to me about his struggles and how it reflected an overall disconnect from the players and Dillion Lawson. When Giancarlo Stanton told the media that the Yankees needed to change their approach and shorten their swings, the former hitting coach shot down that notion, and while fans would assume the player is right, that’s not necessarily the case here. At the MiLB level, the Yankees have crushed their opponents, as they simply outperform their opponents with their relentless and effective approach at the plate.

READ MORE: Yankees are seeing better play from scuffling utilityman, but what does it mean for 2024?

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Sep 24, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Oswaldo Cabrera (95) hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Oswaldo Cabrera needs to get back to being himself again; a high flyball hitter who consistently got the ball out to right field and as a result, was able to hit home runs and generate game power. The Yankees have hired the right coach to empower a player with James Rowson, and I think players like Cabrera are the perfect fit for someone who doesn’t have a set philosophy. One of the most destructive aspects of social media has been the idea that those with a new-school approach cannot mesh with older-school philosophies, antagonizing concepts instead of embracing them.

Depending on what school of thought you’re from, you’ll hear the phrases “hit the ball in the air” or “strike out less” with an impulse to say that, without looking at a player’s profile, it’s the right or wrong call. That’s how you end up with Anthony Volpe running a high strikeout rate, it’s how you end up with Oswaldo Cabrera ruining his swing, and it’s how you end up with three different hitting coaches in just three seasons. The victims aren’t the coaches in most cases, they’ll find work somewhere and blame their failures on someone else, the victims are the players who miss out on a long career in the big leagues.

For Cabrera, this is a chance for him to earn more looks in the infield, as the Yankees are without DJ LeMahieu for an undisclosed amount of time with a troublesome foot injury. He may never get this kind of opportunity again, and he has to take full advantage. This isn’t to say that he’s going to Wally Pipp someone on the roster, but rather that the Yankees will have another injury again, and that if they can turn to Cabrera to provide insurance, it could make a world of a difference.

The expectations aren’t nearly as grand for Oswaldo Cabrera this upcoming season, but perhaps last year will serve as a reminder to stay true to what makes you great.

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