Whether it has been injuries or overall ineffectiveness, all season long it has seemed like the Padres have had to tinker with their batting order. Well, some positions anyway. Chase Headley seems to have a firm grip on the #3 slot, Carlos Quentin has become a valuable clean-up hitter when healthy, and Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal are effective options in either the #5 and #6 positions respectively. While the middle of the Padres’ order might be set, what they have lacked throughout 2012 though has been a consistent threat at the leadoff spot.
From Will Venable, to Cameron Maybin, to Alexi Amarista, to Chris Denorfia, the Friars have searched and tinkered to no avail this year in their quest to find a consistent leadoff man. The Padres have not has especially terrible production from their numerous #1 hitters this season. Nevertheless, they have definitely left much to be desired. According to Padres.com Beat Writer Corey Brock, the Padres #1 hitters have not exactly set the world afire with their statistical output in 2012. San Diego leadoff hitters collectively rank 10th overall in the National League with a .253 Batting Average, and 11th overall with a .316 collective On-Base Percentage.
Thankfully, because the season is almost finished, and the Padres are essentially out of contention, the team has the luxury of shuttling guys up and down the lineup. Because of these circumstances, Bud Black decided to try somebody new at the top of the batting order. And since Everth Cabrera has been installed as the leadoff man, he has done a nice job thus far.
Cabrera the Leadoff Man
At times, Cabrera has flashed his perfect skill-set to become a long-term staple at the top of the Padres batting order. Not only does Cabrera possess outstanding speed on the base-paths, the Shortstop is also a Switch-Hitter that can drive up counts and make life a proverbial “Hell” for opposing Pitchers. In addition, Cabrera’s speed also allows him to leg out plenty of infield choppers and dribblers on the infield grass, and he does have enough pop to shoot balls into gaps and leg them out for extra bases (16 Doubles this season). Plus, anytime he gets on base, Cabrera puts an enormous amount of pressure on the entire Defense.
Since Cabrera has moved to the top of the lineup, he has been a nice spark-plug for San Diego’s offense and put all of his skills to good use. Over his first four games, Cabrera has hit .474 (9 for 19), notched 4 Stolen Bases, scored 2 Runs, and hit 2 RBI’s as the Padres have been on a bit of “mini-roll” lately.
Yet as much as I would like Cabrera to emerge as the long-term answer at Shortstop and in the leadoff spot, he is not without a couple of flaws which he must find a way to remedy if he desires to keep his position in the batting order. The biggest issues which Cabrera must find a way to remedy are his high Strikeout and low Walk totals. In his 311 Total Plate Appearances this season, Cabrera has Struck Out a massive 81 times compared to only 29 total Walks! The Strikeout totals do not bother me as much as the low Walk totals do though. And the fact that Cabrera at times can struggle to get on base (.324 OBP) because of his high Strikeout to Walk ratio makes me a bit nervous if he begins to revert to his old ways.
As tenuous as I am over whether or not Cabrera can ultimately evolve into San Diego’s long-term leadoff hitter, I still believe that Black should give him a chance to earn the job over the rest of the regular season. The Padres have nothing to lose, and everything to ultimately gain from the move to mold a player with the potential to be a top of the order threat into an effective offensive weapon. It will be a 30+ game audition for Cabrera, and he could not only win himself a full-time roster spot with a good performance, but a chance to start full-time as well.
Will Cabrera become the answer as San Diego’s leadoff man? All we can do at this point Friars fans is wait and find out. I will say however that this Offense has received a boost with his presence at the top of the lineup. In addition, Cabrera’s Offensive production has definitely improved since Black moved him higher in the batting order, so there is no shame in keeping him in the #1 position.
Time to chime in readers: Will Cabrera emerge as the top leadoff hitter down the stretch? Will he be given a chance to compete? Will he ultimately succeed in his new-found role?
Statistics Courtesy of: Baseball Reference