If Trey Cabbage’s dreams of playing Major League Baseball ultimately are realized, the spring of 2019 might just be the point in time that we identify his switch as having been flipped.The Minnesota Twins selected Cabbage with their fourth-round pick in the Amateur Draft in June, 2015, out of Grainger High School in Rutledge, Tennessee, and, like most high school draftees, they assigned him to their Gulf Coast League affiliate in Fort Myers. Also like most high school draftees, Cabbage found playing ball professionally, even at the lowest US-based levels, was nothing like high school.
In his first four summers of pro ball, starting with that first summer with the GCL Twins and followed by about a season and a half each with Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids, Cabbage hit just .236 while striking out in almost one-third of his plate appearances.
Of course, a propensity for strikeouts is something most organizations accept for their power hitters. The problem, for Cabbage, was that his eight home runs for the Kernels in 2018 constituted a career high in round trippers, which certainly threatened to disqualify him from membership in the “power hitter” club.
While still just 21 years old, the 2019 season suddenly loomed as a critical year for Cabbage. Something had to change.
Though this season is still less than a month old, it’s becoming clear that something has indeed changed for Cabbage. Maybe a couple of somethings.
First, and most discernible to the casual observer, he’s up to 224 pounds and none of it is in places it shouldn’t be. If you’re one of those people who like to shake a player’s hand when you ask for his autograph, you might want to just settle for his signature. His handshake could affect your ability to sign your own name for a couple of days if you aren’t prepared for it.
Even with the additional strength, though, it turns out the “something” that’s changed the most is the one square foot of space between Cabbage’s ears.
photo by Steve Buhr
Through Wednesday, he’s sporting a .364/.417./.705 (1.121 OPS) slash line that’s unlike anything the Twins have seen from him before. It takes more than additional strength to make that kind of turnaround, even if the season is less than a month old.
Ironically, perhaps, the primary reason for his statistical turnaround may be a new personal disregard for the numbers.
“Working with Pete Fatse, our hitting coordinator, and Ryan Smith, our hitting coach here, I’ve got more of a process-oriented mindset instead of a numbers mindset,” Cabbage explained this week. “Because if you’re worried about trying to get hits for the numbers, then you’re going to start manipulating your swing and that’s going to cause you to start overthinking and swinging at bad pitches. At least it does for me.”
His manager, Brian Dinkelman, agrees and has seen the difference in Cabbage already.
“I think the mental thing is probably the big thing for him. Just not trying to overthink things or change up too much all the time,” Dinkelman said. “Stick to what his plan is and swinging at strikes, that’s the main thing for him. Nobody hits really when they expand the zone. If you’re swinging at pitches in the zone, then you can do some damage. Once he makes contact with the ball, he usually hits it pretty hard.”
Which brings us back to the subject of those strikeouts.
Through Wednesday, Cabbage has been striking out just over one time every four plate appearances. Not a major reduction from the one-in-three rate previously, perhaps, especially considering the small sample size reflected in 11 games worth of plate appearances, but arguably a step in the right direction.
Cabbage isn’t doing any one thing in particular to focus on reducing his strikeout rate but feels his new mental approach to hitting will take care of that.
“I think with the mindset of doing more damage, the big thing was to zone up and not try to cover all 17 inches of the plate at all times,” he explained. “When you’re in an offensive count, there’s no need to be fighting off a pitch on the outer black – fighting off the nasty slider or change up that they’re throwing when you’re in an offensive count. You should look for pitches you can do damage.
“So, (hitting coach Ryan Smith) was telling me to zone up and doing that has allowed me to have more of a clear vision of what I’m looking for. Not just be like, ‘Alright that looks like it could be a strike, let’s take a hack at it.’ That’s what I’ve done in the past and I was having too broad of a zone when I was ahead in the count.”
photo by Steve Buhr
Having suited up for the Kernels for 47 games in 2017 and the entire 2018 season, nobody could blame Cabbage for not wanting to spend any more time back in Cedar Rapids this season than is absolutely necessary. After all, the goal of every minor league player is to get promoted to the next level and, while he’s still close to the average age for a player at the Class A level, this is still his third calendar year with the Kernels.
While Cedar Rapids understandably wasn’t his preferred destination to start the current season, Cabbage took the re-assignment to the Kernels in stride.
“I was with the Fort Myers (Class High-A) group through most of spring training and I was busting my hind end trying to stay on that roster as long as I could and of course I wanted to start the season there,” he admitted. “But that’s out of my hands and all I can do is just go out and take care of my work and whatever happens, happens.
“I won’t lie to you, I wanted to be there really bad, but there are a lot worse places to be than Cedar Rapids. I still have a job and I’m still playing.”
photo by Steve Buhr
He’s also not letting himself get distracted by thoughts of a potential promotion, even with his hot start.
“If I was wishing, ‘Oh, I should be there, I’m out-playing somebody,’ that’s just bad karma, it doesn’t help anybody,” he said. “Then you start saying, ‘oh, well he got two hits, I’ve got to go get two hits.’ Then you press and overdo things.
“I’m just trying to go out and play day by day and take care of myself. That’s how you got to the level where you’re at. You’ve got to take it one pitch at a time and make sure you beat the (pitcher) on every pitch that you see.”
For those who have watched his on-deck circle routine for a couple of years (which always begins with a ‘Happy Gilmore’ hop-skip-swing), it’s natural to wonder if Cabbage is attributing any of his success to new routines, but that’s not really the case. Not too much, anyway.
“I feel good at the plate right now. I’ve always been a routine-based guy, so I know what’s going on right now feels good, so I’m not thinking, ‘OK well this is good, if I do a little bit more, I can make it a little bit better,’ he explained.
“I’m only a little ‘stitious,’ I’m not ‘SUPERstitious.’ So, I like to keep the same routine, but I’m not in a panic mode if something doesn’t go exactly right. It’s just coming in and getting the work in every day. Not trying to overdo it. Not trying to overthink it. And then when the game (starts), you go out and play. You’re not overthinking or over critiquing yourself pitch by pitch.”
Other Kernels Notes
- Cedar Rapids’ record is just 5-8, tied for last place in the Midwest League’s Western Division currently.
- Cabbage has been the brightest spot in the Kernels’ lineup thus far, but others may be starting to step up and carry their share of the load.
- Michael Davis is now hitting .314 with an .862 OPS.
- Gabe Snyder, who joined the team last week, is slashing .455/.500/.773 (1.273 OPS) through his first six games in CR.
- Gabriel Maciel recently arrived and promptly went 3 for 5 in his first game with the Kernels.
- On the pitching side, most of the rotation has had a start that didn’t go particularly well and at least one other that went much better.
- Blayne Enlow has given up just one earned run, in total, over his last two starts.
- Jordan Balazovic struck out nine batters in each of his two starts this season.
- Josh Winder struck out nine batters over five innings pitched in his last start.
- Reliever Brian Rapp has a 0.78 WHIP and a 1.00 ERA over his first nine innings of relief work.
- Tyler Palm has a 0.86 WHIP and a 1.29 ERA over seven innings of relief.
- Zach Neff and Carlos Suniaga have each struck out nine batters over their first six innings out of the bullpen.
- Joe Record has yet to give up an earned run while striking out seven over 2.2 Innings Pitched over three relief appearances.
- Reliever Joe Record Looking Forward to First Pro Outing, Two Years in the Making
- Reliever Tyler Palm Takes the Road Less Traveled to Affiliated Ball
- Gabe Snyder Makes Good Early Impression for Kernels
Click here to view the article