Melky grateful for his opportunity with the Bucs

Veteran outfielder reports to camp vying for spot as fourth outfielder

February 17th, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- This season is already off to a better start than 2018 for . At this time a year ago, he was still waiting to sign. He kept waiting until late April before finding a match with the Indians on a Minor League contract. So the veteran outfielder felt like he was arriving early when he reported on time to Pirates camp on Sunday morning.

With a full Spring Training ahead of him, the 14-year veteran will have a chance to claim a spot as a fourth outfielder on the Pirates' Opening Day roster.

"It feels great to be here early. I'm here to connect with this team, [to] be a part of this organization and to get started right away," Cabrera said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "The earlier, the better -- and that's going to be very helpful and beneficial for the team and for myself."

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Cabrera walked into the Pirate City clubhouse early Sunday morning, unsure of where to find his No. 53 jersey. But he was greeted by several familiar faces.

Cabrera played last season in Cleveland with shortstop and outfielder . A native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Cabrera is also familiar with , , and , among others. He and catcher have been friends since their time in the Yankees' system; he even said Cervelli put in a good word with the front office.

Whatever Cervelli said, it worked. The Pirates officially signed Cabrera to a Minor League deal last Monday, as pitchers and catchers were reporting for Spring Training. If he performs well this spring, the 34-year-old switch-hitter could serve as a backup for Chisenhall in right field.

If Chisenhall is sidelined -- calf injuries limited him each of the past two seasons -- Cabrera could step in as the regular right fielder until Polanco's surgically repaired left shoulder is fully healed.

"I just want to share my gratitude [to] the organization in giving me the opportunity. I'm glad to be here. I want to be here because I want to help this team win," Cabrera said. "In reality, I'm [of] the disposition of just [doing] whatever the team wants. Whatever's best to help this team win ... that's my goal. I want to play baseball, and I want to play on a winning team."

Cabrera isn't necessarily guaranteed a job, however. The Pirates could begin the season without a true fourth outfielder. They could use a bench spot to carry corner infielder/outfielder , a super-utility man like Reyes or , or fellow non-roster outfielders and .

But the Pirates are intrigued by Cabrera's ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Cabrera began last season in Triple-A and returned there in July. After rejoining the Indians in late July, however, he slashed .302/.363/.458 with six homers and only 28 strikeouts in 61 games.

"Honestly, I just feel great. Physically, I feel great. I know I'm 34, but I feel young -- and I still think I'm young," Cabrera said. "As long as I feel great and continue to just be physically in shape and mentally in shape, I'm going to continue to play. The moment I feel like that's gone, that's the day I'll hang it up."

Cabrera's experience also appealed to the Pirates. General manager Neal Huntington recently mentioned the Pirates' "need for some veteran presence in the position-player group," and Cabrera fits that job description. If he is added to the roster, this will be Cabrera's 15th year in the Majors.

"We've looked in the past for different guys to help us along -- whether it was A.J. Burnett, , . We've had some men come in and do this," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Liriano, coming back, he could definitely give us a shot in the arm along those lines. A guy like Melky Cabrera could give us a shot in the arm from that standpoint."