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Baseball: Mariner's aquire Cabrera

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posted on Apr, 5 2004 @ 10:58 AM
With starting third baseman Scott Spiezio opening the year on the disabled list with a back injury, the Mariners wanted another option in the infield. They got one in Jolbert Cabrera, whom they acquired from the Dodgers for a pair of pitching prospects, Ryan Ketchner and Aaron Looper.

Cabrera, 31, is coming off by far the best season of his major league career. He hit .282/.332/.438 with six homers and 37 RBI in 128 games last year, seeing time at all four infield and all three outfield positions. He has some pop and above-average speed, and he's a competent defender all over the diamond. He still has to prove that his 2003 performance wasn't a fluke, as he's a .253/.303/.353 career hitter with nine homers, 98 RBI and 26 steals in 448 games. Willie Bloomquist will start at third base on Opening Day, though Cabrera should also see time at the hot corner. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $1 million contract in January, which also contains a $1.5 million option for 2005. His departure from Los Angeles means that Jose Hernandez will platoon with Alex Cora at second base.

Ketchner, who was born partially deaf and has 40 percent of his hearing, was named the USA Deaf Federation's 2003 co-athlete of the year. He's more than just a human-interest story, as he's a legitimate left-handed pitching prospect. The 21-year-old signed as a 10th-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2000. His stuff isn't overwhelming -- 85-88 mph fastball with life, ordinary slider, solid average changeup -- but his ability to locate his pitches precisely and his deceptive delivery have allowed him to succeed throughout his pro career. He led the high Class A California League in strikeouts (159 in 157 innings), strikeout-walk ratio (4.8) and shutouts (two) last year, when he was also the league's playoff MVP after working 13 scoreless innings. He went 14-7, 3.45 in 31 games (22 starts), holding opponents to a .228 average and 10 homers in the most hitter-friendly league in the minors. He'll begin this season in Double-A Jacksonville.

Looper, a 27-year-old right-hander, was a 30th-round pick out of Westark (Ark.) CC in 1997 and signed as a draft-and-follow after a year at Indian Hills (Iowa) CC. The son of Mariners vice president for scouting and player development Benny Looper and the cousin of Mets reliever Braden Looper, Aaron made his big league debut last August and had a 5.14 ERA in six appearances. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Tacoma, going 5-2, 3.11 with five saves in 46 appearances. He had a 67-26 K-BB ratio in 75 innings, while opponents hit .247 with 10 homers. The Mariners lowered his arm angle to a low-three-quarters slot in 2002, and it did wonders for the movement on Looper's fastball. He now throws a darting 88-92 mph sinker. His slider is tough on righties, who batted .193 off him in Triple-A, but he needs a better changeup to combat lefties, who batted .328. He'll open 2004 at Triple-A Las Vegas.

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