Alexander Alberto Cabrera
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 217 lb.
- Debut June 26, 2000
- Final Game September 30, 2000
- Born December 24, 1971 in Caripito, Monagas, Venezuela
Venezuelan slugger Alex Cabrera is best known for his 55 home-run season in the Pacific League in 2002, tying the Nippon Pro Baseball record. At age 41, he broke the Venezuelan League home run record. He hit over 550 home runs in his professional baseball career and won MVP awards in both Japan and Venezuela, becoming the first three-time MVP in Venezuelan ball. His son, Ramon Cabrera, played in Venezuela while Alex was still active and made his major league debut in 2015.
In the Cubs system
Signed by the Chicago Cubs early in 1991, Alex began his professional career with a .301/~.338/.420 season for the Dominican Summer League Cubs. The next year, Cabrera batted .207/~.257/.259 for the 1992 AZL Rockies/Cubs, homering just once in 41 games and striking out 48 times in 135 at-bats. Moving up to the Geneva Cubs in 1993, Alex batted .246/~.284/.365. He walked 9 times and fanned 49 times in 167 at bats, but did smack 5 homers, one behind the team leader. Alex truly blossomed in the 1994 Midwest League as the 22-year-old made the MWL All-Star team at DH after homering 24 times, third in the circuit. Overall, his line for the Peoria Chiefs was .278/.329/.507 - he only walked 19 times while whiffing in 92 at bats. He made nine errors in just 67 games as a first baseman/outfielder, appearing primarily at DH, not a good sign for someone in a National League farm system. In 1995, Cabrera played just 54 games for the Daytona Cubs and cut his strikeouts to 36 in 214 at bats. Only homering twice, his line was .294/~.323/.388. In the 1995-1996 winter Venezuelan League, Alex hit .277 and slugged .455, numbers comparable to Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Roberto Petagine. Assigned to the co-op Bakersfield Blaze, the Cubs farmhand homered 15 times, but continued to show poor strike zone judgement (14 walks/80 strikeouts) and hit .281/~.309/.470 for the season. Chicago released him at season's end.
When no US team signed Cabrera for 1997, the 24-year-old first baseman went to the Mexican League and hit .314/~.352/.585 with 23 HR, 84 RBI and just 17 walks for the Minatitlan Potros and Mexico City Tigers. He tied for second in the loop in long balls, two behind leader Ty Gainey. In the postseason he was even better, leading the Tigers to a title with a .482 average, five homers and 23 RBI in 14 games. In 1997-1998, Cabrera was the Venezuelan League MVP after a .322 winter (third in the league), 31 runs scored, 35 RBI, 16 doubles (the most) and 8 homers (a 3-way tie for the lead with Magglio Ordonez and Luis Raven) for Occidente Pastora. In 1998, Mexico City's masher hit .317/~.402/.545, hitting 21 bombs but more than tripling his walk total, drawing 53 (13 intentional), as he finally strengthened the OBP element of his game. His line in the LMB over two years was .316/~.379/.564.
In 1999, Alex added another country to a baseball travelogue that had already included the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the United States of America and Mexico. That year, Cabrera joined the China Trust Whales and helped power them to the CPBL title with 18 homers in the season's 89 games. His .325 average was third in the league, 8 points behind the leader, and his 63 runs scored and 23 doubles were tops among the league's top 10 hitters.
His one taste of the majors and torching AA
Cabrera was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000 and led the minor leagues with 39 homers. Alex was 1 for 5 for the AZL Diamondbacks, hit .382/.452/.986 for the El Paso Diablos (cracking a Texas League leading 35 homers in just 53 games, over an extra-base hit per contest); he scored 56 times and drove in 82 runners. In 21 contests for the Tucson Sidewinders, he managed a fine .282/.341/.526 run. He also got his only playing time in the majors, producing a reasonable 96 OPS+ (.263/.299/.500) and homering five times in 80 at-bats for Arizona (including launching one in his first at-bat). Baseball America named him Arizona's Minor League Player of the Year. He would have led the TL in average (by 49 points) and slugging (by .434!) had he qualified. After 44 regular-season homers in 2000, Alex added another 13 in winter ball to lead the Venezuelan League. He hit .289 and slugged .567, driving in 45 runs (two behind the league leader) for Pastora.
In December 2000, Alex was purchased by the Seibu Lions. He ripped Pacific League pitchers for 49 homers, six behind Tuffy Rhodes, and drove in 124 (third-best, eight behind Norihiro Nakamura). Batting .282/.385/.613, Cabrera lost in the Best Nine chase to Michihiro Ogasawara. Alex hit .341 for Pastora that winter and again cracked 13 homers (in just 132 at bats), but failed to lead the league this time. Back in Japan, Cabrera had his best year at .336/.467/.756 for Seibu in 2002. He was second in the PL in average (4 points behind Ogasawara), led in OBP as well as slugging (139 points ahead of runner-up Kazuo Matsui), tied the home run record, tied Nakamura for second in RBI (115, two behind Rhodes), scored 105 runs (second to Matsui) and drew a league-best 100 walks (14 more than Nakamura; 29 were intentional). Cabrera lost a home run on May 6 with a fluke play when his liner hit the roof and bounced back onto the field for a single; it would have given him 56 for the year and the new record. He was named to the Best Nine at first base and additionally was named the Pacific League's MVP, becoming the first Latino player so honored. Additionally, Seibu won the PL pennant, only to be swept in the Japan Series despite a .357/.438/.929 series by Cabrera, who homered in the first two games. He won the Fighting Spirit Award for his performance in a losing cause in the Series.
The 2002 controversy
Cabrera hit his 54th homer of 2002 with 11 games left and tied the record with five games to play. Seibu then matched up with the Daiei Hawks, managed by Sadaharu Oh. Oh had previously been criticized for seemingly trying to protect his home run record from Randy Bass (in 1985) and Tuffy Rhodes (in 2001) by not letting his teams pitch to them. In the first game against Daiei, Cabrera saw six strikes, walked twice and was hit by a pitch. Frustrated and ordered by manager Haruki Ihara to strike back, he elbowed the Hawks catcher in the head while trying to score during the game. Cabrera said that Oh "didn't want me to break his record... It's not professional." In contrast to the Bass situation, the Japanese media and fans in large part sided with Cabrera. Yomiuri Daily News columnist Jim Allen wrote that "[T]hey should put an asterisk and a note next to Oh's name in the record book." Ultimately, Wladimir Balentien would break Oh, Rhodes and Cabrera's record in 2013.
After the record
Cabrera continued to shine for Seibu in 2003, to the tune of .324/.418/.705. He beat Ogasawara for the slugging lead by 56 points and was second to Rhodes in homers, 51 to 50, while driving in 112 runs. He made the PL Best Nine at DH. In 2004, the slugger was sidelined until mid-June after breaking his forearm in spring training. Overall, Cabrera still hit .280/.369/.644 with 25 home runs in 64 games, though he was clearly not up to his old level of play. Seibu finished second but, thanks to rule changes prior to the season, the Pacific League now had a playoff system. With a healthy Alex around, they beat the Nippon Ham Fighters in the first round then toppled the regular-season champion Hawks to earn a return trip to the Japan Series. In the Series, Cabrera hit .296/.387/.705 with three homers and nine RBI to help his team to a victory in seven games.
In 2005, Cabrera hit .300/.407/.606 and was among the leaders in walks (71, five behind Nobuhiko Matsunaka, OBP (five points behind Matsunaka), RBI (tied for third with 92) and slugging (third, behind Matsunaka and Julio Zuleta). Matsunaka and Zuleta were named to the Best Nine at DH and first base. Cabrera did make history, becoming the fastest player in Nippon Pro Baseball history to 200 homers, reaching that mark in 538 games, 40 fewer than it had taken Ralph Bryant. In winter ball, Cabrera helped the Caracas Lions to the first Caribbean Series title by a Venezuelan League team in 17 years. He hit .360 with 2 home runs and 7 RBI in the 2006 Caribbean Series and made the All-Star team at DH. In 2006, Cabrera continued to show his skills for Seibu, smacking the ball to a .315/.404/.564 line, though he had been over .350 in late June. He finished second to Matsunaka in the batting race, tied Naoyuki Omura for fifth in runs scored (74), was fifth in hits (147), tied MVP Ogasawara for the RBI lead (100), was one homer behind league leader Ogasawara (Alex hit 31), was third in total bases (263), third in strikeouts (115), fourth in walks (68), second in OBP (almost 50 points behind Matsunaka) and second to Ogasawara in slugging. Cabrera stated that his goal for 2007 was 50 home runs, but he hit only 4 in April. He reached 250 NPB homers in his 733rd game in Japan, tying Bryant for the quickest to that level. He was the 50th NPB player to hit 250 home runs.
The Mitchell Report, released in 2007, indicated that Cabrera had received steroids while with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He denied the claim and said he had not tested positive in 2007, when Japan instituted steroid testing. Officials from the Seibu Lions said Cabrera appeared to be losing bulk and muscle definition once Japan began testing. In Venezuela that winter, he hit .284/.418/.642 with 13 home runs, tying Richard Hidalgo for second, two behind Eliezer Alfonzo.
Cabrera signed with the Orix Buffaloes for 2008, inking a 250-million yen deal with incentives. That year, he became the oldest first baseman (at 36) to win a Gold Glove in NPB history; it was especially striking in that he had never won the award before and had played DH at points in his career due to his glovework. Cabrera was named on 40 of 143 ballots, 2 more than Kazuya Fukuura; 53 writers left their ballots blank, not liking any of the options at the position. He hit .316/.394/.593 with 36 home runs, 88 runs scored and 104 RBI. He reached 300 homers in NPB in his 894th game, the fastest player to that mark; Koji Aoyama surrendered number 300. He was among the PL leaders in average (5th, between Takumi Kuriyama and Toshiaki Imae), runs scored (3rd behind Takeya Nakamura and Kensuke Tanaka), hits (159, tied for 6th with Tanaka), total bases (299, 1st by one over Nakamura), RBI (2nd, 14 behind Rhodes), homers (3rd behind Nakamura and Rhodes), walks (62, tied for 4th with Tanaka), strikeouts (110, 7th, between Nobuhiro Matsuda and Hiroyuki Nakajima), slugging (1st, 10 points ahead of Rhodes), double play grounders (17, 2nd to Takeshi Yamasaki), OBP (tied with Rhodes for second behind Nakajima) and OPS (1st). He was named to the Best Ten at first base.
After an off-winter for the Leones del Caracas (.246/.338/.420), he missed two months of 2009 with injuries, playing well when healthy (.314/.400/.519). He batted .331/.428/.569 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI for Orix in 2010. He led the PL in OBP (.005 over Tsuyoshi Nishioka) and OPS, was 4th in average (after Nishioka, Tanaka and Imae), tied Jose Ortiz for 5th in home runs, was 8th in RBI (between Tanaka and Ortiz), was 7th in walks (69) and was second in slugging (.006 behind Takahiro Okada). He made his fifth, and final, Best Nine, again at first base.
Cabrera signed with the Softbank Hawks next but sputtered in 2011 (.225/.285/.363, 10 home runs in 89 games, 94 strikeouts in 311 at bats). Playing for the Tiburones de La Guaira in his first Venezuelan League action in 3 years, he hit .462/.500/.795 with 14 RBI in 39 games in limited time. He was just 6 for 29 with a double, homer and 10 whiffs for Softbank in 2012. He was not done, though, as the seemingly-faded slugger had a rebirth in his homeland.
In 2012-2013, he hit .277/.374/.492 with 7 homers in 130 at bats for the Tiburones. The next year was much bigger; he hit .391/.480/.744 with 21 home runs and 59 RBI in 59 games. When he took Daryl Thompson of Anzoategui deep December 22 with a first-inning grand slam, he broke Bo Díaz's 34-year-old Venezuelan League record, giving Cabrera home run records in two of the premier baseball nations in the world during his career. He finished the campaign at .391/.480/.744 with 21 homers and 59 RBI in 59 games. He was the fifth two-time MVP in Venezuelan League history (the MVP first being given out in 1985-1986), following Luis Sojo, Robert Pérez, Roberto Zambrano and Ernesto Mejia); the 16 years between MVPs was a record. He led the league in average (.013 over Cory Aldridge), was 10th in runs scored (41), was second in hits (84, one behind Jose Castillo), led in homers (4 over Jesus Aguilar), led in RBI (7 more than Mario Lisson), tied Guilder Rodriguez for 9th in walks (32), led in OBP (.006 over Aldridge), led in slugging (.088 over Aldridge) and led in total bases (160, 23 more than Aldridge).
His winter success got him another look at summer ball, hitting .404/.491/.660 in 14 games for the 2014 Veracruz Eagle in his first Mexican League action in 16 years. That winter, he hit .303/.371/.478 for La Guaira. He tied for 8th in the league with 7 homers and was 7th in slugging. In 2015-2016, the 44-year-old produced at a .335/.427/.572 clip with 11 homers and 39 RBI in 50 games. He was 5th in average (between Juniel Querecuto and Ildemaro Vargas), 3rd in OBP (behind Rangel Ravelo and Alex Romero), led in slugging (.010 over Ravelo, who was not even alive when Cabrera made his pro debut), 2nd to Ravelo in OPS, led in home runs (two more than the next players) and tied for the RBI lead (with Castillo, Jairo Perez and Carlos Rivero). He became the Venezuela League's first three-time MVP. With his 2015-2016 outburst, he tied Alfonzo for the career LVBP home run record (135, 10 ahead of Robert Perez), was 6th in RBI (465, between Castillo and Oscar Salazar) and easily had the best slugging percentage of any player with 2,000+ LVBP at-bats (.526, .056 over Alfonzo). In his swan song, he played four games with Aragua in 2016-2017, going 1-for-11 with 2 walks.
1993-2006 Baseball Almanacs, Japanesebaseball.com by Michael Westbay, The Meaning of Ichiro by Robert Whiting, The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, Sergei Borisov's NPB websites, 2002-2006, Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland