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Just Another Hotshot 20-Year-Old Third Baseman
2003-10-16 08:52
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

You know how disappointed I am about the Cubs losing to the Marlins. I'm so disappointed that I can barely muster interest in seeing the other team of Job, the Red Sox, try to make their peace.

I do want to say that I have nothing against the players on Florida, who seem to be a likeable bunch from one end of the roster to another.

And from a Dodger perspective, you can't help but notice the contributions made by Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is a 20-year-old third baseman, the same thing that Adrian Beltre was in 1999.

In the 2003 playoffs, Cabrera has batted .318, based .375, slugged .568, OPSed .943, all while showing precocious versatility by playing four challenging positions: third base, shortstop, left field and right field.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Cabrera, who started the season in Double A, looks like a jewel.

Beltre, of course, hasn't had the opportunity to play in the playoffs. Let's compare the regular season statistics between both players at age 20. (Because the two players were closer in games played when Beltre was 19 - like Cabrera, Beltre was originally a midseason callup from AA ball - I'll put those stats in too.)


Beltre, 1998: 77 games, .215 BA, .278 OBP, .369 SLG, .647 OPS, .235 EQA
Cabrera, 2003: 87 games, .268 BA, .325 OBP, .468 SLG, .793 OPS, .270 EQA
Beltre, 1999: 152 games, .275 BA, .352 OBP, .428 SLG, .780 OPS, .274 EQA

As you can see, Cabrera was clearly the superior player in his first partial season. However, when you match them up at the same age, it's basically a split decision. Cabrera wins on OPS, but no doubt thanks to park factors, Beltre wins by a hair on EQA.

Beltre, of course, has gone on to have a mixed career, affected to some unquantifiable extent by the appendectomy that was apparently performed on him with a butter knife in 2000.

If you were looking at these two players, side by side, at age 20, there is a reason to think Cabrera was the one with the brighter future, even if Beltre had the Cal Ripken of appendices. Cabrera had more power at a young age.

However, Cabrera, like Beltre has, may face some hurdles as he approaches car rental age. This season, Cabrera walked 25 times (against 84 strikeouts) - a walk every 14 plate appearances. His walk rate is poorer than Beltre's was at age 20: Beltre walked 61 times (against 105 strikeouts), or one walk every 10 plate appearances.

Further, unlike Beltre, who walked more often than he struck out in his minor league career, Cabrera has never walked all that much. He did walk 56 times this year with Florida and AA Carolina, a rate of one per 11 plate appearances that just about places him on par with Beltre. But of course, Beltre did not spend half a season in the minors at age 20.

Next year, Cabrera may undergo the rite of passage in which major league pitchers work him outside the strike zone, to see if he has the judgment to take a walk or the recklessness to swing away.

Here are Beltre's stats at age 21:

Beltre, 2000: 138 G, .290 BA, .360 OBP, .475 SLG, .835 OPS, .286 EQA

That 2000 season remains Beltre's best. His stats improved in every area - for the last time. Beltre has not broken the .310 barrier in OBP since his appendix went. It's not that I think that the appendix could have affected Beltre's eyesight, but something has just been wrong with Beltre ever since. I'm still not convinced Beltre doesn't need a nice new pair of glasses at Christmas.

Even in 2003, even with his second-half power surge, Beltre ended the season by walking once every 16 plate apperances. That is not promising.

Cabrera may have some struggles ahead. But he may also have a bright future that will leave us wondering why South Florida did so well with its hotshot 20-year-old third baseman, and Southern California did not.

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