Oswaldo Cabrera has more than just baseball to worry about these days, but that doesn’t hurt his focus on the field. The 18-year-old Venezuelan infielder is not only trying to improve and achieve his dream of making the major leagues but the situation at home, where his family lives, has been volatile. With that said, he’s kept his focus squarely on baseball.
“Right now, where my family lives is good. They’re safe,” Cabrera says.
Cabrera’s composure isn’t surprising considering the player he tries to model his game after. “Omar Vizquel because he always under control. If he has pressure, he’s always calm, smooth and that’s the way I try to model my game after,” Cabrera said.
The New York Yankees signed Cabrera as an international free agent in July 2015. He was discovered through a baseball academy started by fellow Venezuelan Carlos Guillen, the former Seattle Mariner and Detroit Tiger infielder who put together a nice fourteen season career.
“When I was 16 years old, I was at Carlos Guillen’s academy. Through tryouts through that academy, the Yankees signed me,” Cabrera said. Through that academy, Cabrera learned more than just baseball. They also prepare players for life in the United States after they’re signed. “I was prepared through Carlos Guillen’s academy. They were teaching me the values and preparing me for how the United States was going to be so when I came here I felt fine, felt comfortable, prepared.”
When Cabrera signed with the Yankees, he was beaming with pride for two different reasons. “At first I had two very big emotions. First, I was grateful I signed with the greatest professional organization in the world. I was proud to sign with the New York Yankees. Second, I was proud to sign with where my brother was with the Yankees. I’m very proud of that,” Cabrera said. Cabrera’s brother, Leobaldo, signed with the Yankees in 2015.
On the field, Cabrera was assigned to the Dominican Summer League for 2016 but quickly rose up to Pulaski by the end of the season. He produced a .441/.487/.647 slash line in 19 games to earn a promotion to the Gulf Coast League Yankees. His hot hitting continued and produced even more impressive numbers in a short stint there. He ended up with a slash of .455/.471/.818 in seven games. He then was promoted to Pulaski on July 25 and ended up playing 26 games and hitting .240. He had 23 hits with four doubles, one triple, and one home run.
This year with the Charleston RiverDogs, Cabrera finds himself as a versatile part of the infield. He plays shortstop, second base and third base. He possesses a strong arm with good agility. He’s played more at third base this year than his first year in his first year of professional baseball. “I’ve played third in the past and I’ve practiced over there. Right now I feel comfortable, I’m making little adjustments everyday and learning new stuff everyday since it’s a newer position and I’m trying to learn as much as I can,” Cabrera said. “I feel comfortable playing all of them, but I feel most comfortable at shortstop because that’s what I’ve been playing my whole life. Whatever ball is hit to me, I’ve seen it so many times and practiced it so many times that’s where I feel more comfortable, but I feel comfortable at all of them and working on all of them.”
Cabrera has struggled offensively so far this year, but he’s young and growing physically. He’s hit .208 with two home runs but has driven in 25 runs through 49 games of the season. With his struggles, Cabrera has been sent down to the short-season A Staten Island Yankees.
Cabrera is a contact hitter, but he’s looking to hit the ball hard every time he’s at the plate. He’s working on staying on the ball and not falling into the trap of hitting for power. “I’m working on staying on the back leg, back hip and the separation and stuff so I can hit the ball with a lot more authority and stay strong during practice, batting practice, cage work, but at game time, I’m just going to compete,” Cabrera said.
One of the things that help Cabrera is a number of his Venezuelan countrymen on the team. Teammates Eduardo Navas, Angel Aguilar and Diego Castillo all help bring a sense of comfort on and off the field. “I feel it’s a huge help. It helps to have teammates that speak the same language, the same slang. Everyone’s a big family, a big team here, but having those players here is a lot of help, and I feel comfortable off the field as well,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera also spoke highly of his coaching staff with the RiverDogs. “The whole Yankees organization is incredible, especially here with the coaching staff in Charleston. It’s incredible, and they helped me day and night. Here they push us, and sometimes it feels like they can be on top of us, but I’m young, and they’re hard on us because they want to help us and they’re pushing us,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera learned from his fellow countrymen that had success in the Majors that hard work is the only way to achieve his goals. “Mentally I’ve always been wanting to climb levels. I’m ready for the opportunity. I trained two months here in the United States, and I didn’t go home, and where I worked out, there were a lot of Venezuelan big leaguers and they always told me that I got to push myself and it’s going to be a long year and that I have to finish low A or high A and you really have to push yourself for these two months.”