David McCabe draws walks. A lot of them.
In his first full year of pro ball, he produced a 15.3 percent walk rate thanks to 80 free passes over 524 plate appearances. That led to a .385 on-base percentage for those scoring at home. He’s walked (14) more times than he’s struck out (12) over his first 10 Arizona Fall League games to lead the circuit in free passes. But that wasn’t always his calling card.
“It wasn't something I necessarily did my first couple years in college,” said McCabe, the Braves’ No. 16 prospect. “It was a real focal point my third year. We got a new hitting coach at Charlotte, Phil Cebuhar. He just kind of made that a focal point for us, we trained it, it was something we worked on.
“My approach is just, I wait until I can swing at a pitch that I can do damage on. And if I can't do damage, then it's not worth swinging, whether it's a strike or a ball, but something I can do damage on is what I want to swing at.”
That shift allowed the switch-hitter to post a 1.297 OPS with more walks than strikeouts in his junior year at UNC Charlotte, helping him land in the fourth round of the 2022 Draft. He clearly brought it with him to the pro game, with his approach helping him hit 17 homers across two levels of A ball in his first full season.
Another thing he’s carried over from his college days is his left-right split. He’s a much more dangerous hitter from the left side and the 2023 season was no different. McCabe hit 16 of his 17 home runs left-handed and had an OPS of .864 from that side compared to his .725 OPS as a righty.
“I always do more damage left-handed,” McCabe said. “I'm not really sure why, but it’s just something I've always done. It takes a lot of work, especially right-handed during the season, just because you don't see as many lefties and it's kind of finding ways to re-create game at-bats and working more on the right-handed side than on the left-handed side in practice just because you do left-handed so much more.”
McCabe is also continuing to find his legs at third base. While he did play a small handful of games at the hot corner in college, he spent a lot of time as a designated hitter at Charlotte, with most thinking first base was the most likely defensive destination for him at the next level.
“It’s been different, obviously,” McCabe said. “It’s not something I did in college. I didn’t play defense a whole lot in college. It’s been kind of slow and I'm taking my time over there. But it's been great that they've been giving me time to learn, succeed and fail over there, still believing in me and giving me that opportunity each day.”
Whether or not he sticks there, it is more likely that his bat will get him to the big leagues. And that’s something that will help continue to put Charlotte on the map as a bit of a low-key baseball power, one that has produced five top-five-round picks, including McCabe, over the past two years.
“It's been really cool to see Coach [Robert] Woodard kind of turn that program around and just see the difference from when we showed up on campus three years ago to what it looks like now,” McCabe said. “It's been crazy to see the turnaround, and it speaks to them and their efforts in player development and improving us. And we've had a good group of guys there. So it's been a lot of fun to watch it and be a part of it.”
Braves hitters in the Fall League
Keshawn Ogans, INF: The Braves got Ogans in the final round of the 2022 Draft out of Cal and he’s been a nice college performer type coming off a solid year with High-A Rome. He has good bat-to-ball skills and doesn’t strike out a lot, with the AFL giving hinm the chance to get ready for the upper levels and perhaps show he can be utility guy in the future.
Tyler Tolve, C: A Georgia kid who stayed home for college (Kennesaw State) and then got drafted by his hometown team in 2021, Tolve made it to Double-A in his second full season, but missed time with a quad strain. He’s a left-handed-hitting catcher who has the athleticism to play other spots, though he’s been focusing on his defensive behind the plate in the AFL.
Braves pitchers in the Fall League
Darius Vines, RHP (No. 10): While Vines made a solid contribution to the big league staff when called upon in 2023, he also only threw a combined 69 2/3 innings for the year. Shoulder inflammation kept him off the mound until June, so he’s brought his four-pitch mix and feel for the zone to Arizona to make up for lost innings.
Dylan Dodd, LHP (No. 20): Dodd was also called upon to help out in Atlanta this year with mixed results. And like Vines, he also missed time, landing on the injured list for over a month, and he struggled in Triple-A, so he’s making up some innings and trying to right the ship with Salt River.
Patrick Halligan, RHP: A 2021 draftee, Halligan did touch Double-A for the first time in 2023, missing a fair amount of bats as a swingman (9.9 K/9). He has a 92-3 mph fastball, a slider and a split and his time in the Fall League could help him see what improvements he needs to make to stick at the upper levels.
Jake McSteen, LHP: McSteen pitched at Nebraska and then in indy ball before signing on with the Braves in 2021. He served as a solid lefty reliever in Double-A in 2023, with a slider and cutter and the ability to fill up the strike zone.
Brooks Wilson, RHP: Drafted back in 2018, Wilson put himself on the map as a potential future big league reliever with a strong 2021 campaign that earned him a spot on the 40-man roster. He missed all of 2022 following Tommy John surgery and threw just 13 1/3 innings this year, so given the choice of getting some innings in Arizona or in winter ball, the organization decided on the former for a more controllable setting.