Everth Cabrera's speed is a game-changing tool. It's also the type of tool that can almost single-handedly win a category in fantasy baseball. Cabrera is so special because, not only is he extremely fast, he is a very good base runner as evidenced by UBR and wSB marks that would have ranked in the top 15 in the majors (or better) had he played a full season and qualified. Cabrera has stolen 81 bases over the last two years despite having only played 210 games. During that same time, he attempted a stolen base every 9 plate appearances at a success rate of 83.5 percent. Those numbers extrapolated over 700 plate appearances (a reasonable number for a full time leadoff hitter) would yield a stolen base total of 64. Since 2009, there have been only 4 occurrences in which a player more than 60 bases and only two were greater than 64.
Last season, Cabrera showed more than just speed. He cut his strikeout rate almost 10% thanks to a contact rate increase to the tune of 6.5% and a reduced swinging strike percentage. He hit .283 with a .337 BABIP that looks to be sustainable due to his speed, the fact that he hits a large number of ground balls and an increase in LD%. Cabrera maintained an above average walk rate and posted a career high .355 OBP which would have ranked second among shortstops. Getting on base 35% of the times he went to the plate allowed him to attempt to steal 49 bases in only 435 plate appearances. It also led to scoring more runs in fewer plate appearances than in 2012. I've always been a little more optimistic than others on the Padres lineup, but I think Cabrera can score 90 runs while batting leadoff if he maintains or comes close to repeating his 2013 OBP.
Power will never be part of Cabrera's game as he's never posted an ISO over .106 and had only 24 extra base hits each of the last two seasons. While it remains to be seen what the effect of being off steroids (assuming they are) will have on power hitters such as Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz, Cabrera's game is not likely to change. He's battled some injuries in his career and performance enhancing drugs can aid in making it through the rigors of a long season but I'm not expecting any change in production due to PEDs or lack thereof. On that note, the limited at bats over the last two seasons were the result of starting 2012 in the minors and a 50 game suspension in 2013. I think it's reasonable to project Cabrera for a career high in games and plate appearances in 2014.
Everth Cabrera won my heart with his stolen base heroics in September of 2012 when he stole 19 bases in the month and carried my team to an NL-only league championship. Since then, he has been one of my favorite players in fantasy baseball. Normally, I shy away from players that offer stats in limited categories such as Michael Bourn and Juan Pierre, but Cabrera continues to intrigue me. He offers stolen base upside that is almost unrivaled in the game and definitely unmatched by another shortstop. If Cabrera shows that the improvements he made last year are for real and gets 600 to 700 plate appearances, we are looking at a top 5 (or higher) shortstop who is likely to go off the board several spots lower than that.
<p style="text-align: center;"><b>. . .</b></p>
<p><i>All statistics courtesy of <a href="http://www.fangraphs.com/" target="_blank">FanGraphs</a>
<p><i>You can follow Zack on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/FantasyNinja8" target="_blank">@FantasyNinja8</a>.</i></p>
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