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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Edward Cabrera

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Cabrera’s major league debut should come later this season.

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Courtesy of @ecabrera30/Instagram

RHP Edward Cabrera

Opening Day age: 22 | Bats: right | Throws: right | Listed at 6-5, 217 lbs.

Acquired by Marlins as an international free agent (July 2, 2015)

Which Marlins pitching prospect did the most to boost their stock during the 2019 Minor League Baseball season? That distinction has to go to either Zac Gallen or Edward Cabrera. The former, while repeating Triple-A, masterfully used his deep pitch mix to pile up whiffs at a personal-best rate, forcing his way up to the major league roster by midsummer. He’s been among MLB’s most consistent starters ever since. The latter took on new challenges at age 21, competing at the High-A and Double-A levels for the first time. Cabrera’s 2.77 xFIP topped all Marlins minor league starters.

For several years to begin his professional career, Cabrera ranked among Miami’s top prospects by default due to the lack of talent around him. But the advancements he made during the most recent MiLB campaign allowed him to keep pace with the recent influx of gifted arms. He has become a consensus Top 100 MLB prospect. As if that wasn’t enough, some members of the Marlins organization entering 2020 were reportedly more bullish about his future than Sixto Sánchez’s.

In so many cases, young pitchers are tagged with the “future starter” or “future reliever” label based on the quality of their changeup (or lack thereof). Cabrera’s fastball and slider already give him an excellent foundation.

Although COVID-19 restrictions deprived them of live looks, multiple evaluators have heard that his offspeed offering made a huge leap in 2020.

“His (alternate training site) pitch data indicated his changeup might have become an elite weapon,” according to Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs. Keith Law of The Athletic is ready to categorize it as “among the best in the minors; it’s 90ish with huge tumble and might be a grade 80 pitch.”

If true, why didn’t Cabrera make his major league debut last year like numerous other polished Marlins pitching prospects? He fell behind because of what’s Joe Frisaro described as “arm discomfort” (Longenhagen refers to it as an unspecified sort of “infection”). As best as I can patch the story together, Cabrera experienced the issue in July during summer camp, began a throwing program in early August and returned to the mound near the end of that month. The Dominican right-hander accompanied the Marlins on their final regular season road trip and postseason run, stretching out to four innings during an Oct. 2 simulated game. However, the club declined to activate him for the National League Division Series.

What’s next?

Courtesy of Miami Marlins

Cabrera is now dealing with a new, seemingly more significant physical setback: an inflamed nerve in his right biceps. It’s a rare diagnosis for a baseball player and a recovery timeline is difficult to estimate without more specifics.

The Marlins only disclosed this news publicly on Friday, but weren’t blindsided by it themselves. They learned “late in the winter” that Cabrera had an injury, manager Don Mattingly says. He is “already showing improvement.”

Problem is, Cabrera hasn’t been cleared to throw yet. The progression from idle to full starter’s workload typically takes about six weeks (hence the reason why pitchers and catchers report to spring training before anybody else). Doing the math, everything must go perfectly for him to be ready for Triple-A Jacksonville’s season-opening series (Apr. 6-11). The far likelier outcome is he’ll spend the early portion of 2021 on the injured list.

Miami’s most experienced rotation pieces—Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López and Elieser Hernandez—are saying all the right things this spring. They want to make every scheduled start, work into the later innings, etc. However, coming off a shortened MLB season and universally deemed the NL East team that’s least capable of contending for a World Series title right now, the Marlins will handle them carefully. Mattingly admits that a six-man rotation could be used at various points.

There will absolutely be opportunities for Cabrera to get his feet wet in the majors before season’s end.