With continued uncertainty surrounding first base because of the injuries to Anthony Rizzo (back) and DJ LeMahieu (right big toe) — neither of whom appears super-close to returning — the Yankees gave rookie Oswaldo Cabrera a crash course at the position several hours before Friday night’s game against the Rays.
Cabrera is a natural middle infielder who before Friday had never put on a first baseman’s glove, but his quick adaptation to rightfield since his call-up gives the Yankees hope he can adequately man the position if called upon.
“He’s a really good infielder, a really good defender,” Aaron Boone said Friday afternoon. “We’ve seen what he’s done in rightfield, really having not done it much at all, and he’s gone out there and made a seamless transition. He’s a ballplayer. He’s smart, he’s able to slow the game down, plays the game with a lot of poise, a lot of confidence. We’ve already thrown him into some unique situations as a rookie player and he’s handled them superbly. Wouldn’t surprise me if he went over there and handled himself well.”
Cabrera isn’t likely to see significant time at first, if any. Marwin Gonzalez, who started at first Friday, will get time there along with Ronald Guzman, just called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“We’re still optimistic with Anthony, but in the short term we’re kind of seeing what we have,” Boone said. “Obviously, Oswaldo’s a pretty talented defender, but we kind of want to have that option over there, see what it looks like.”
What did it look like Friday?
Bench coach Carlos Mendoza, a longtime infield coach in the club’s minor-league system before getting the same job with the big-league club in 2018, wasn’t ready to declare Cabrera the next Don Mattingly at the position. Mendoza, promoted to bench coach before the 2020 season, liked what he saw from Cabrera but cautioned that there’s more that goes into the position than scooping the ball out of the dirt.
“There’s a lot of things that goes into it. It’s not just catching the baseball,” said Mendoza, who, along with infield coach Travis Chapman and coaching assistant Brett Weber, worked with Cabrera on Friday. “It’s the footwork, the cuts and relays, it’s positioning and knowing where the second baseman is playing with the shifting, where to go when the ball’s hit into the gap.
“My first impression is pretty good. I don’t think any of us are surprised at his ability to adjust and adjust on the fly. We’re seeing it with him in the outfield with him never before playing the outfield, and so far he’s been good. I’m not saying that’s going to be the case [at first] because he’s going to be touching the ball a lot more, he’s going to be involved in a lot more plays. But early returns are encouraging.”
Cabrera didn’t hesitate when the Yankees came to him and said they had a new position for him to try.
“Sure, absolutely,” he said with a smile. “This is new for me, but I’m not afraid to do it . . . The first time that I was playing outfield, I didn’t feel 100% comfortable because I never played in a game there, but it [first base] felt good. It feels fine.”
Boone said centerfielder Harrison Bader (plantar fasciitis) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment — likely with Double-A Somerset — on Sunday. Bader “probably” will need about a week’s worth of games, Boone said . . . Giancarlo Stanton (Achilles) pinch hit for Cabrera with runners on first and second Friday night and grounded out to end the sixth inning.