Sunday, December 11, 2016

Best #62 in Braves Franchise History

(Series Note: Baseball-Reference was used for a collection of players so this series is as complete as their database is. No coaches/managers were included and a number had to have at least four options to be considered with two exceptions. I started from the highest available number because as I approach #1, I'll have much tougher decisions. For the complete series, click here.)

Best #62 in Franchise History

The thing about uniform numbers after 60 is that pitchers rarely use the number after one season. In today's version of The Top Player by Uniform Number (working title), I have just four choices to work with for #62 and three played under a different number while with the Braves. A fourth might occur when the most recent player suits up for next season.

Manny Acosta was the first recorded #62 in Braves' history when he donned the number in 2007. That was back when he looked like a decent relief prospect. When he switched to #46 over the next two seasons, it became clear that Acosta had mid-90's velocity, but no movement. Jairo Asencio played under two different numbers in 2009 during a three-game cameo - #50 and #62. When he returned to the majors in 2011, he was assigned #56. Three different numbers, nine total games with the team. And then, there is David Hale, who was assigned #62 when he arrived in the majors for two starts during the 2013 season. The next year, he switched to #57.

My choice for the Top #62 is...Mauricio Cabrera.

On excitement alone, Cabrera is an easy pick. The slim pickings certainly aided my decision and like others who wore the #62, Cabrera could be in a different jersey number by spring. For the moment, though, he's a runaway choice for the Best #62.

He may also be the most surprising choice simply because it looked like he might never get to the majors. Sure, he had a talented arm. We knew that when he had a 2.97 ERA with Danville as an 18 year-old in 2012. But could he find the strikezone enough to even utilize his amazing velocity?

After one more try to keep as a starter failed in 2013, the Braves shifted him to the bullpen the next year. Most of the time, a move to the bullpen can be associated with better control as the pitcher scales down his offerings for his best two or three pitches. For Cabrera, the move to the bullpen led him to worse command of the strikezone as he walked 21 in 33 innings during 2014. In 2015, it was even worse (35 in 48.1 innings) and while he was beginning to post some big K numbers, the question remained. Would he ever throw enough strikes?

It didn't seem to happen with Mississippi over 25 games to open 2016. While the strikeouts were a'plenty (only three times did he fail to record a K in a game), he was still walking nearly six-per-nine innings. Still, the Braves decided in late June that Cabrera could play a role for the major league bullpen and skipped him past Triple-A.

Cabrera hadn't walked less than five-per-nine innings since 2013. In 41 games in the majors, he walked just 4.5 per nine. While he wasn't posting absurd K numbers, he wasn't getting killed with walks and Braves manager Brian Snitker grew more convinced that Cabrera could be a high leverage pitcher for him. Over his final 29 games, he went 4-for-5 in save opportunities and picked up eight holds.

Again, Cabrera may never wear #62 again. For that matter, the control issues that plagued him in the minors could again become a problem. Regardless, for the time being, there is no pitcher better deserving of being the Top #62 in franchise history than Mauricio Cabrera.

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