If you’ve taken one thing away from our scouting reports thus far, it should be the lack of high percentage bats in the Detroit Tigers farm system. They have a lot more potential built in at this point than they have in many years, but most of the infielders and outfielders we’ve profiled already are either young with much left to prove, or remain boom or bust types with a high likelihood of flaming out in the upper minors.
Daniel Cabrera represents a third type; the quality college hitter who doesn’t really have the tools to be a good major league regular, but could be a very solid contributor relatively quickly. Pegged as a second round pick when the 2020 college baseball season opened, the COVID shortened season didn’t leave much opportunity to build on that impression. A pretty deep selection of quality college pitchers were plucked in the second round instead, pushing Cabrera down a bit. After selecting catcher Dillon Dingler with the first pick in the second round, the Tigers were happy to see Cabrera still available in the Competitive Balance pick Round B.
Cabrera is a left-handed hitting corner outfielder who played his high school ball in Louisiana and was one of the most notable players in the state even as a junior, when he was still a solid prep pitcher as well. He was drafted in the 26th round of the 2017 draft by the San Diego Padres, but was never going to sign at that level. Instead, he honored his commitment to play for LSU, and put together a fine college career with the Tigers.
He got to work quickly and was in the starting lineup even as a freshman, where he hit .315 with eight homers and found himself on the Freshman All-American list. That led to a stint with the USA Collegiate National Team, and his stock couldn’t have been much higher at that point. He followed it up with a strong sophomore year and then earned All-Star honors in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2019. While he didn’t have the junior year push some wanted to see boost him into the first round, he didn’t scuffle in the slightest either, collecting 14 walks to 12 strikeouts and posting a .966 OPS in 17 games before the season was cancelled.
The Detroit Tigers selected him with the 62nd overall pick in the 2020 draft, and signed Cabrera overslot for $1.2 million.
This can be a back-handed compliment, but Cabrera truly is one of those players who doesn’t have a major weakness. A pitcher in high school, Cabrera retains enough arm to play right field, and while he’s a fringe average runner, he gets good jumps and plays a very solid brand of corner outfield. He also draws high marks for baseball intelligence and his work ethic.
The key is the advanced bat he brings to the table. Heading into the draft he was regarded as one of the better pure hitters available. He carries above average raw power and has good bat control and plate discipline. The approach is advanced and Cabrera’s compact, flat stroke should produce plenty of line drives and good gap power with a chance for more if he can learn to elevate more balls to the pull field. Cabrera should be able to move into the upper levels of the farm system quickly.
The real weakness here is simply that Cabrera doesn’t have that high a ceiling as a hitter. The rest of his tools are plenty good enough to play outfield in the majors with a little more development, but his whole profile lives and dies with the bat. Cabrera is listed at six-foot, one inch, and 196 pounds, and already pretty well built, so there isn’t much room for further development there. Instead, he’s going to have to maximize his approach to hit for enough power. Most scouts seem to think he has a fair chance to do so, but there may be some adjustments required along the way to unlock his full potential.
Cabrera sets up with a lot of weight on his back leg and while he uses a short kick, he has a very quiet, stable lower half. However, that sometimes leaves him a little flat footed, with a tendency to step open and pull off the ball to catch up to good fastballs. This isn’t much of an issue for him as long as his shoulders don’t fly open up with his hips, but to drive the ball more effectively in the air, and cover the outer half better, the Tigers may want to tweak a few things along the way. With a little more rhythm and drive toward the mound he might trim some of the rotation out of his swing and keep the bat on plane longer. As it is, he does have a pretty compact, simple stroke, and sprays the ball on a line fairly effectively.
Cabrera is already 22 years old, and will turn 23 in September, so he’s also a little older than most in his draft class. The poise and maturity he possesses as a hitter do him credit, but the overall ceiling is probably limited to a solid major league regular rather than anything grander. However, he also appears to have a good chance to get to that ceiling and perhaps in relatively short order. As such, it’ll be worth seeing how he fares in the early going this season. If things go well it should be a relatively quick move into the upper levels.
Projected 2021 team: High-A West Michigan Whitecaps
As a very successful college hitter in a good program, Cabrera should be a little ahead of the game as far as the 2020 draft class is concerned. Look for him to get his feet wet in the company of Spencer Torkelson out in West Michigan. They both should be comfortable there in pretty short order, and we’ll look for Cabrera to be in Erie by July.
Here’s a clip from his freshman year for comparison.