Orioles Pitcher DANIEL CABRERA – Tallest Latino Big Leaguer
“When he lets the ball go, he’s right next to you.” That’s how Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees describes batting against the tallest Latino ever to play major league baseball, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera.
Cabrera nearly no-hit New York last September 28 at Yankee Stadium, but Cano -his friend and fellow San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic native- singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth to ruin it. Cabrera stood a mere 6’7″ then, but he’d grown to 6’9″ by his next starting assignment in the Bronx on August 14. The night before earning his ninth win with 6 2/3 shutout innings, Cabrera graciously agreed to discuss his journey to the big leagues with La Prensa del Beisbol Latino.
There almost wasn’t a baseball career to talk about. Unlike most Dominican boys, particularly those from San Pedro, Cabrera preferred basketball as a youth, following his older brothers to the courts most every day. He rooted for the Chicago Bulls and their star ex-minor league outfielder Michael Jordan. There weren’t any NBA scouts in the Dominican though, so when a buscon (sort of a broker between young Dominican players and professional baseball clubs) told Cabrera his height would make him an imposing pitcher, the 15-year-old decided to give baseball a try. He could barely catch the ball at first but, inspired by the dominance of Pedro Martinez, Cabrera dreamed about making the major leagues each night.
Even though he threw only 79 mph as a 6’6″, 160 lbs 17-year-old, the Orioles signed him in 1999 for $10,000. They had a vision of what he could become but, initially, they didn’t even have a bed at their San Pedro complex large enough to hold him. Baltimore’s Latin American scouting director Carlos Bernhardt still calls Cabrera “Cama Largo” (Long Bed) as a result.
Cabrera put on thirty pounds and got his velocity up into the mid-90’s, but experienced a “really tough” adjustment during his first season of rookie ball in the United States in 2001. Not speaking a word of English was hard enough, but what was he supposed to eat when there was no Dominican food to be found? Coaches loved his arm and determnation, so he kept working hard on his pitching, and his results improved the following year when he was better prepared for life off the field.
An 0-7 start for single-A Delmarva in 2003 proved to be a temporary setback, as Cabrera finished strong and reached the major leagues the following year. He beat the White Sox on his mother’s birthday in his major league debut, and wound up third in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting with a 12-8 record. Initially expected to make only an emergency start or two, Cabrera’s 96-100 mph fastball made the Orioles want to see more. He was even better in 2005, though poor run support caused his record to slip to 10-13.
With Leo Mazzone on board as the Orioles new pitching coach in 2006, many anticpated a breakout season for Cabrera. He starred in the World Baseball Classic during spring training, and finished the year with his near no-hitter. In between though, he was so wild tha he managed to lead the American League in both walks and wild pitches despite missing 6 1/2 weeks with a trip to the disabled list and a stint in Triple-A.
Cabrera had corrective eye surgery after the season and, while he’s still the AL walk leader, he’s actually issuing fewer free passes per nine innings than ever before. He’s already established a career high in innings pitched, ranking among the league leaders in that category. Not only did he grow two inches last off-season, he continued to put on muscle and now weighs 269 lbs. “He’s a horse,” says Orioles manager Dave Trembley.
Cabrera’s only 26, and with less than a decade of organized baseball under his belt, his best years are still to come.
By MALCOLM ALLEN
(This article was originally published in La Prensa del Beisbol Latino, Vol. 4, No. 1, summer 2007, by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), and is re-printed with the permission of the editor.)