It seemed like the 2021 season was done giving us high profile pitching debuts. After seeing the big league debuts of guys like Shane McClanahan, Alek Manoah, Logan Gilbert, Matt Manning, and Daniel Lynch, most felt there were not going to be many, if any, big name pitchers left to debut in 2021.
Edward Cabrera was one of the last potential remaining options, and he got the call in a heartwarming fashion earlier in the week as he gets set to take on a struggling Nationals club here on Wednesday evening. Cabrera will get a chance to line up against another top 100 pitcher who debuted this season, Josiah Gray, in what should be a super fun glimpse into the future pitching stars of the NL East.
Cabrera likely would have made his big league debut in 2020 or early 2021 had he not been bothered by shoulder pain, and now he gets a chance to audition for a starting role in 2022 while the team waits for injured pitchers like Sixto Sanchez and Pablo Lopez to heal up.
Unlike many of Miami’s other pitching prospects, Cabrera does not have a signature off-speed offering. He has been effective with all three of his pitches; a hard fastball that can touch triple digits with heavy life thanks to his 6-foot-5 frame, a plus slider that moves a ton and comes in around 85 miles per hour, and a continually improving changeup, which he has worked to improve by gaining velocity separation between it and his fastball. All this has lead to elite strikeout numbers throughout his minor league career and while his command has been spotty at times, it is much improved over the last year or so.
I’ll be watching closely to see how much Cabrera trusts those off-speed offerings in his first outing, and of course with any debut I’ll be paying attention to his fastball command.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at outing No. 1 for Cabrera:
Cabrera’s first pitch was a 98 mile per hour fastball on the low and inside corner. It was perfectly located with nice, visible movement. Here we go!
Cabrera followed that up with another 98 mile per hour heater, just on the outside corner and fouled off by Lane Thomas.
Pitch number three gave us our first look at his slider, an 89 mile per hour pitch with nice movement but that caught a lot of the zone. Fortunately, it was grounded to third and a nice play by Brian Anderson secured Cabrera’s first big league out.
Cabrera started Alcides Escobar out with a tasty 98 mile per hour fastball off the corner away for a called strike. I love the way he’s attacking hitters early with this fastball so far, this is the recipe for success we saw earlier this year from guys making their big league debut like Alek Manoah – attack the zone with your best pitch early and often.
Cabrera’s next pitch was another slider, in nearly the exact same spot as his first one which was fouled off. He’ll need to start locating that pitch down and out of the zone in order to get chases if he wants to stick around in this one.
And low and behold, that’s exactly what we get with his next pitch! Check out this beautiful 87 mile per hour slider that falls just below the zone and is harmlessly lined up the middle for out number two:
And then, after two straight fastballs to begin his first two at-bats, Cabrera comes at Juan Soto with a slider in on his hands. The location still wasn’t perfect, but I love seeing him change things up a bit here. I’m hoping we will get to see that changeup in this at-bat, Cabrera’s first against a left-hander.
Instead, Cabrera goes with another fastball (unless this was a really hard changeup) and gets a hard lineout from Soto. Pretty dangerous location here, but he is through his first inning with just eight pitches thrown.
Let’s see if he can keep the momentum going in his second inning:
Cabrera’s first pitch of the second inning was his first career ball, a 97 mile per hour fastball to Josh Bell that wasn’t anywhere close.
After jamming Bell with 96 on the inside corner, Cabrera dropped another outstanding slider just under the zone that Bell somehow managed to take. If he can keep humming this slider just under the zone, he’ll be just fine.
Cabrera ended up getting behind 3-1 with a low fastball, but managed to get his fourth consecutive out with a 97 mile per hour fastball that was lined out to left field.
His fifth batter saw Cabrera go with what I believe was a first pitch changeup, but he missed outside again. Unless this was a fastball at 93, which would be odd, Cabrera doesn’t seem to have enough separation between those two offerings. Something to keep an eye on for sure.
Cabrera then went fastball to Yadiel Hernandez, missing up and in with 98 mile per hour cheese. He followed that up with another fastball, this one catching far, far, far too much of the plate at 96 but thankfully he escaped with another groundout.
He’s not going to be too happy with his performance if he leaves too many fastballs right there, I can tell you that.
But he survives inning two unscathed, as his first pitch fastball to Carter Kieboom is lined sharply to right field for another out. It was another lightning quick inning for Cabrera, but there was a fair amount of hard contact here – so I remain cautiously optimistic that he’ll start to paint more corners (and show us more of that changeup!) as the game goes on.
Cabrera challenged Luis Garcia with a 97 mile per hour heater up over the plate to begin the third inning, but Garcia was ready for it and whacked it into right field for the first hit surrendered of Cabrera’s career. Now, we get a chance to see how the 23-year-old responds to a little adversity with a runner on and nobody out, as well as his first time pitching out of the stretch.
So far so good, as Cabrera’s first pitch from the stretch is a 83 mile per hour slider buried down in the zone that Riley Adams was forced to take for a strike. More of this please Edward.
And on cue, Cabrera went with another slider but instead of burying it he hung it up and in. Fortunately, Adams grounded it foul.
I like what Cabrera did next though, in a way. Adams was sitting dead red on a heater after seeing two straight sliders, so Cabrera got him way out in front by throwing his third straight slider, which Adams took for a called strike three – Cabrera’s first career strikeout! This was great pitch design and clearly executed well enough, but on an 0-2 count you can’t be locating this pitch here:
I mean, woof. Right idea, and got the job done, but needs a little refinement.
Josiah Gray was up and with less than two outs and a runner on, Gray did what NL pitchers have been putting fans to sleep with for years; he squared to bunt. Two fastballs down and a slider low and away later and Gray was sent packing after he fouled off the final pitch for strike three.
Thomas came up for round two after that, and Cabrera started him off with a slider up and in for ball one. It’s the second time through the order so I’m hoping we will start to see more of his changeup, although he may wait to bust it out against the left-handed hitting Soto.
Cabrera’s next two pitches were a fastball off the plate up and a 2-0 fastball right down Main Street at 96. He missed with his next fastball away, mostly because Jorge Alfaro tried to pick the runner off instead of framing what should have been a strike. With a 3-1 count, Cabrera went back to his fastball for a fourth time in a row and, like he’s done a few times already tonight, he got lucky:
Cabrera’s been really solid through three innings. I don’t want to sound like it’s been all luck so far – it clearly hasn’t. But he’s given up some LOUD contact so far in this one, and only one single is a pretty fortuitous line on the night. If he starts to flash that changeup and keeps getting ahead of hitters, however, the final line is going to turn a lot of heads.
Cabrera starts the fourth with a slider, located perfectly just below the zone that Escobar wisely took for ball one.
He went fastball up and in to even the count at 1-1, before dropping what the announcers believed was his first changeup of the game.
Again, that pitch is definitely a changeup (peep the grip) but he’s going to need that pitch to sit in the mid to high 80’s instead of 93, where it’s likely to get punished without any separation from his fastball.
A fastball off the plate followed by a nice slider that was spoiled by Escobar brought the count to 2-2, and again Cabrera came back with a 94 mile per hour pitch right down broadway, again that was fouled away. It looked like Escobar was out in front, so perhaps the slight change of speed is helping him out, but again you’d like to see his changeup sit in the mid to high 80’s, not mid-9o’s.
Cabrera came back with a beautiful slider down under the zone, but Escobar chopped it to third and beat the throw (barely) for a single. He’s given up hard contact all game but gives up his second hit on a ball that didn’t even go 50 feet. That’s baseball.
Cabrera must have lost a bet after this, because his next two pitches were middle-middle to Soto – which he miraculously got away with giving him an 0-2 count.
After burying a slider off the plate away, Cabrera missed high and away with a changeup at 94 – a location he’s unlikely to keep getting away with. If his changeup is going to sit 2-5 mph below his fastball, it cannot live up in the heart of the plate.
His next pitch was another changeup that Soto rocked to second base. Fortunately it was on the ground and ended up turning into a double play. Cabrera then got Bell out on a first pitch slider that caught a lot of the plate but was lined to left field for an out.
So we are through four scoreless innings and the box score looks outstanding, no doubt, especially considering he has not walked anyone and has hardly been behind in the count.
However, Cabrera has benefited from Washington’s not-so-great lineup so far this evening. I like the fastball and love seeing the slider down below the zone, but he’s left a lot over the plate through his first 12 outs, and is fortunate to be in the position he is on the night so far.
Washington is playing tonight like I play MLB: The Show. They seem completely incapable of taking pitches, and a big kudos to Cabrera for continuing to pound the zone. His first pitch was 96 up and away, and Hernandez bounced out for a quick out.
Kieboom took two fastballs buried in the dirt to get ahead 2-0, but Cabrera fought back with probably my favorite two pitch sequence of the game; a fastball at 98 on the low outside corner, followed by a 91 mile per hour changeup in on the hands to even the count at 2-2.
This. This is what I wanted to see Cabrera do with that off-speed pitch. Seven mile per hour difference and on the other side of the plate? That’s absolutely nasty.
Unfortunately, Cabrera tried to get him with another changeup, but this one got away from him and tagged Kieboom on the forearm.
But, in classic Nationals fashion, Garcia grounded into a 1-6-3 double play on the next pitch, resulting in another incredible inning, with Cabrera only needing seven pitches to retire the side.
Cabrera will now enter the sixth inning having thrown just 49(!) pitches and surrendering just two hits with no walks and two strikeouts. Considering the tape on him coming into this game was his high strikeout and walk totals, it’s safe to say this has been different than advertised so far – although I doubt Marlins fans, or fantasy players who roster Cabrera, are complaining.
Let’s see if he can keep things rolling in the sixth and put himself in position to pick up a quality start.
Cabrera faced Adams to start the sixth, and he wisely took a lot of pitches. Cabrera struggled to locate and ended up walking him on five pitches, his first career walk. Is he getting tired? Hard to say, he hasn’t thrown all that many pitches but the adrenaline of your first big league outing can absolutely fatigue guys earlier than anticipated, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the stuff fade down the stretch.
Gray came up next and popped up his first bunt attempt, resulting in an out. That will help.
After missing middle-middle with a slider to Thomas, who fouled it straight back, Cabrera came back with a changeup up in the zone that – believe it or not – Thomas bounced to third resulting in the third straight double play. Are you kidding me?
Cabrera may not be flashing the absolute dominance that Sixto Sanchez did in his big league debut around this time last year, also against Washington, but he’s making extremely quick work of this Nationals squad. He’s now through six innings and has thrown just 57 pitches.
Once again, Cabrera got ahead 0-1 by pumping a slider down the middle for a called strike. In a game where Washington has been so aggressive, snagging those first pitch strikes is a great way to remain effective and keep the pitch count down.
Cabrera missed with back-to-back off-speed pitches next, a slider away and a changeup inside, before roaring back with a 98 mile per hour heater right down broadway that was fouled away. Safe to say the adrenaline is still working.
Escobar is really making him work here, as he fouled away two straight changeups before forcing Cabrera to throw him a fastball off the plate to make the count full. Cabrera then narrowly, I mean narrowly, missed with a slider for his second walk of the game.
Cabrera responded to another base runner by firing off this absolutely beautiful first pitch changeup to Soto. The confidence to place this pitch perfectly on the corner, when facing one of the most dangerous hitters in the game in the seventh inning of your big league debut, while throwing your worst pitch, is staggering. I love it.
Cabrera went back to the changeup, this time located up at the top of the zone and catching a lot of plate. It resulted in a called strike, but once again that changeup really needs to live down for him to avoid trouble.
Cabrera responded with his third straight off-speed pitch to Soto, a slider that resulted in an easy pop-up to center field. What a great sequence to get Soto. Is he getting even better as this game goes on?
I think so! His first pitch to Bell was a beautiful slider, resulting in a swinging strike.
And then he locates a fantastic changeup to get to 0-2. This is what I’m talking about.
Oh no. Cabrera tried to go back-to-back with the changeup, but as I was saying earlier he caught the upper part of the zone and Bell was waiting. He hammered a line drive to straight away center field that, 413 feet later, left the yard for the first runs surrendered of Cabrera’s career.
Back-to-back changeups was a risky choice, but if he’s going to do that he needs to bury that pitch down to avoid these kind of results.
After missing to Hernandez with a fastball, Cabrera got a nice swinging strike on a changeup low and away. Will he go back to it again?
Answer: yes. And the results, unfortunately, were more of the same. Hernandez got into this changeup middle away and rode it out to left field and over the wall. Back-to-back home runs, each one coming on the back end of consecutive changups. You hate to see it.
We knew coming into this outing his changeup was the pitch that needed the most refinement, and there have been glimpses that show how great that pitch can be at its peak. But right now it’s too similar to his fastball and he’s too erratic with the location, which will result in innings like this if he’s not careful.
A four pitch walk to Kieboom, where frankly most of the pitches weren’t particularly close, and suddenly Cabrera’s night is done. An incredibly sharp six innings looked like a path to a potential complete game in his first outing, but ends after 6.1 innings with three runs surrendered, all via the long ball.
If you roster Cabrera, whether in dynasty or redraft, you should be thrilled with this result. Yes, the overall line gets dragged down significantly by his last few batters, and yes the strikeout total leaves quite a bit to be desired, but Cabrera was in complete command in his first outing – something you don’t see all that often from extremely young pitchers.
The future is very bright for Cabrera, who will almost certainly be a top-40 prospect on my list heading into next season. For the rest of this year I’d happily scoop him up in 12-teamers, as I expect more strikeouts to come in subsequent starts – although the walks will likely tick up a bit as well.
All in all, a fun, successful debut for the Marlins star, who is set to join what should be an absolutely ridiculous rotation in the coming years.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)
Excellent analysis; I said basically the same thing on a Game Thread during the game. Very good stuff but having a change up at 93 with a 98 mph fastball is a recipe for trouble. Needs more separation as you said. I wished I saw more of his curveball but hey, you can’t always get what you want. RIP Charlie Watts.