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Meet the fireballer turning heads in LA's camp

Cabrera, 28, racking up K's with triple-digit velocity
@kengurnick
March 8, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The most dominant Dodgers pitcher this Spring Training is Yordy Cabrera, which raises the obvious questions: Who is he and where did he come from? He’s a 28-year-old right-hander with triple-digit velocity who's had a meandering journey to the Minor League side of Camelback Ranch. He’s shown

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The most dominant Dodgers pitcher this Spring Training is Yordy Cabrera, which raises the obvious questions:

Who is he and where did he come from?

He’s a 28-year-old right-hander with triple-digit velocity who's had a meandering journey to the Minor League side of Camelback Ranch. He’s shown up in the late innings of three Major League games, but he won’t stay under the radar long if he continues to strike out five of every eight batters he faces without a walk or hit allowed.

“He is very interesting,” said manager Dave Roberts. “You just don’t see swing-and-miss stuff with a sinker like that very often, even for a Major League pitcher. There are a lot of good ingredients there.”

If you were obsessed with the 2010 Draft, Cabrera might ring a bell. He was taken in the second round by Oakland as a third baseman, playing only slightly in the shadow of another Florida high school infielder, Manny Machado. He remembers beating Bryce Harper, the first overall pick that year, in an Aflac showcase home run derby. Stetson Allie, another hitter the Dodgers converted to a pitcher, also was in that showcase.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Cabrera was raised by his grandmother after his mother left for work in Panama and his father, Basilio, chased the baseball dream in the Tigers organization, where he still toils as a Triple-A coach.

Yordy joined his mother in Panama when he was 10, but wanted to play ball like his father, and baseball opportunities for a Dominican teenager in Panama were elusive. After four years in Panama, he joined his father in Lakeland and took well to hitting lessons. He signed for a $1.25 million bonus that he invested and uses today to support his wife and two kids back in the Dominican while he keeps his dream alive.

“My dad taught me how to hit, how to read, how to write, how to behave myself and learn the American culture,” said Cabrera. “My high school coach, Mike Campbell, helped me a lot, too.”

Cabrera’s professional career has not exactly mirrored those of Machado or Harper. He was traded by the A’s to the Marlins in 2012 for reliever Heath Bell. Still an infielder, his right elbow blew out in '13 and he needed Tommy John surgery, missing the '14 season. He returned from the operation reluctant to cut loose his swing for fear of another injury, so the Marlins asked him to try pitching.

“I got hurt swinging the bat and I was scared, I had doubts in my mind,” Cabrera said. “They were getting ready to release me, but they asked me to try pitching and I gave it a shot.”

He got into a dispute with Marlins management in 2015 and was released. Distraught, he told his father he was quitting baseball. He went to Panama to visit his mother, who convinced Yordy to stick with it.

Cabrera began training with former Major Leaguer Jose Jimenez. He signed with his father’s Tigers in 2016.

“That’s when my pitching career actually started,” he said. “They taught me a lot.”

He moved on to the Giants in 2017, reaching Double-A as a starting pitcher. His fastball was clocked at 102 mph and he thought he might be gaining career momentum by pitching at three levels that year, only to have a car accident in the Dominican that winter, injuring two training partners, and he was released again.

“I wasn’t hurt and I started thinking that God must have a plan for me,” he said. “That’s when I started taking care of myself more.”

Last year he was out of organized ball, playing in an independent summer league in the Dominican, where Dodgers scout Franco Frias couldn’t ignore that fastball. While Cabrera was playing with Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, the Dodgers offered a contract and he signed it.

“Frias was following me and said he’d call me,” said Cabrera. “They called and gave me the opportunity and I love it. I want the opportunity to show everybody what I can do.”

Cabrera said he’s surprised he’s already pitched in three big league games, but not surprised with the results.

“I’m making quality pitches, but I know I can get my arm even better,” he said. “It’s the cold weather. I know there’s more there. I think I’m close.”

And when the day comes that he pitches in a real Major League game?

“That would make my life,” he said. “A dream come true and my family’s dream come true. It would break me up and I’d cry for five minutes.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.