Meet Marlins Pitcher Edward Cabrera, Your New Favorite MLB Flamethrower

Zachary D. RymerJune 10, 2022

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 07: Edward Cabrera #27 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at loanDepot park on June 07, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Eric Espada/Getty Images

Like with any art form, the rules, limitations and conventions for the art of pitching are constantly being rewritten. All it takes is one guy and one pitch for something that seems impossible in theory to become very much possible in reality.

So it was on June 1 at Coors Field, when a 96 mph changeup suddenly appeared:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Edward Cabrera, Absurd 96mph CHANGEUP. 😳 <a href="https://t.co/SJxASS6UOR">pic.twitter.com/SJxASS6UOR</a>

There have technically—but maybe not actually, given that it's not unheard of for certain pitches to get misclassified—been faster changeups during the 15-year pitch tracking era, but 96 mph is at least the highest velocity ever achieved on a strikeout by a changeup. Heck, two in five fastballs aren't even touching 96 mph in 2022.

Anyone who can throw a pitch like that is clearly worth knowing. So by all means, get to know Edward Cabrera.

Starting with the pedigree stuff first, he's a 24-year-old right-handed pitcher for the Miami Marlins. He made his major league debut on Aug. 25, 2021, yet he's technically still a rookie and No. 62 on B/R's ranking of the top 100 prospects in Major League Baseball right now.

Though his 96 mph changeup is a highlight unto itself, Cabrera has also engaged in a bit of history making in his two starts for the Marlins this season. Both have seen him log six innings while allowing no more than two hits. As noted by Christina De Nicola of MLB.com, he's the first Marlins pitcher to ever begin his season by hitting those marks in two consecutive outings.

Basically, he's been about as dominant as you'd expect of a guy with that kind of pitch in his repertoire. But while these things alone make Cabrera worth watching, they're not all that make him worth rooting for.

From Passed Up to Throwing Gas

22 JUL 2016: 	Edward Cabrera of the Marlins during the Gulf Coast League game between the GCL Marlins and the GCL Astros at the Osceola County Stadium complex in Kissimmee, Florida.  (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every baseball prospect is the hero of his own underdog tale to some degree or another, but Cabrera more than most.

Born in Santiago in the Dominican Republic on April 13, 1998, he was 16 years old when he was first eligible to be signed by major league teams during the 2014 international signing window. There were no takers, however, and he settled for a modest $100,000 bonus from the Marlins the following year. Or, for a mere fraction of the multimillion-dollar bonuses that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the other top international prospects got that year.

Cabrera's fastball only touched 91-92 mph at the time he signed, but the Marlins had one reason to dream big on his potential. At 6'4", 185 pounds, he offered a frame from which far greater velocity might eventually flow.

Sure enough, Cabrera was up to 96 mph by the end of 2015 and sitting at 92-93 mph throughout his first season in the minors in 2016. He hit 100 mph for the first time in 2017, a reminder of which is permanently tattooed on his neck.

Cabrera nonetheless took his lumps throughout his first three professional seasons, and particularly in 2018. He pitched to a 4.22 ERA in 22 starts for Single-A Greensboro, finishing with fewer strikeouts (93) than innings pitched (100.1) in spite of his high-octane stuff. Though Baseball America granted that he still had a ceiling as a mid-rotation starter, its report on Cabrera for 2019 hinted at a possible future as a "late-inning, power reliever."

Instead, that turned out to be the year that Cabrera began his ascent in earnest. He kept his velocity up and further honed his secondaries, ultimately benefiting to the tune of a 2.23 ERA and 116 strikeouts over 96.2 innings. He subsequently appeared in top-100 lists for the first time in 2020, and all signs seemed to point to him making his Marlins debut that year.

But then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and his progress was eventually slowed even further by a shoulder injury. And just when he was ready to ramp up for 2021, an inflamed nerve in his biceps sidelined once again in February.

Cabrera resumed his dominance of minor league hitters upon returning in June, posting a 2.93 ERA and whiffing 92 across 61.1 innings at three different levels. On Aug. 23, he finally got the good news that The Show was calling.

Miami Marlins @Marlins

Let’s check in on Edward Cabrera’s Sunday Night. <a href="https://t.co/I8H4zLCFno">pic.twitter.com/I8H4zLCFno</a>

Things went great for Cabrera in the majors...at first.

He impressed in his debut against the Washington Nationals, pitching into the seventh inning and allowing three earned runs on four hits and three walks. Yet he failed to last past the fourth inning in any of his next six starts, altogether getting knocked around for a 6.30 ERA with 16 walks and four home runs allowed in just 20 innings.

Cabrera had to come out of his seventh and final start of 2021 with a blister, and still more hurdles appeared in his way after the season ended. The Major League Baseball lockout and a visa issue left him behind schedule when the Marlins opened spring training, and then yet another biceps issue forced him onto the injured list for the start of the minor league season.

Cabrera finally returned to the mound on April 27 and, apart from a six-run dud on May 14, basically picked up where he left off. This performance plus injuries to Jesus Luzardo and Cody Poteet opened the door to his call-up on May 29.

This latest promotion had the potential to be short-lived if Cabrera didn't produce right away, but that's obviously not what's happening.

The Fastball and Slider Are Good, But This Is All About the Changeup

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 07: Edward Cabrera #27 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at loanDepot park on June 07, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Eric Espada/Getty Images

Even as he was getting humbled by major league hitters, Cabrera at least succeeded in showing off his arm during his cup-of-coffee run with the Marlins last year.

He cranked his fastball up to 100 mph at one point, and hitters basically had no answer for the 98 sliders that he threw. They yielded just two hits in 23 at-bats, 10 of which ended by way of the strikeout.

And now for the part that, provided you didn't skip past the intro, may surprise you: The one pitch of Cabrera's that hitters did handle last year was his changeup. They went 10-for-22 with more home runs (4) than strikeouts (3) against it.

After that, Cabrera would perhaps have been justified in shelving the pitch. Or at the least, relegating it to his No. 3 offering after his fastball and slider. A "show me" pitch, essentially.

Instead, he's done the opposite. At 37.3 percent, the changeup has been Cabrera's most oft-used pitch in 2022. The specifics of this usage also bear little resemblance to those of last season, starting with the average velocity of the pitch:

  • 2021: 92.1 mph
  • 2022: 93.5 mph

That's a 1.4 mph increase, leading to the highest average speed in a single season for any changeup on record. Between that and its lake sinking action, it makes some sense that it basically is a fastball for Cabrera himself.

“The thing is, I throw it like a fastball,” Cabrera said through an interpreter after his 96 mph changeup went viral, according to Manny Randhawa of MLB.com. “That’s the way it goes. I always throw it as a fastball so it has that kind of [action]."

This goes against the conventional wisdom that there should be substantial velocity differential between a pitcher's fastball and changeup, but two things allow Cabrera to get away with not having that kind of differential.

For one, the late sink on Cabrera's changeup pairs well with the arm-side run that he gets on his four-seamer. Any hitter looking for the latter is liable to swing over the ball if he gets the former instead.

For two, Cabrera isn't making mistakes like the one that he made to Michael Conforto last year:


MICHAEL CONFORTO'S DAY CONTINUES WITH A 2-RUN BLAST! <a href="https://t.co/39NOE5m5mo">pic.twitter.com/39NOE5m5mo</a>

Even right-down-the-middle pitches think that one was too right down the middle. No matter what kind of velocity or movement a pitcher gets on his changeup, he simply can't make it a habit of putting it there.

In 2021, Cabrera did have that habit. In 2022, he does not:

Images courtesy of Baseball Savant

Results-wise, the difference is staggering. The 72 changeups that Cabrera has thrown have produced 17 swings and misses and only 11 balls in play. Of the latter, not a single one crossed the hard-hit threshold of 95 mph.

And thus: one hit in 20 at-bats, with eight strikeouts.

Cabrera's Place in the Terrifying Marlins Rotation of the Future

DENVER, CO - JUNE 1:  Starting pitcher Edward Cabrera #27 of the Miami Marlins delivers to home plate in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies in game one of a double header at Coors Field on June 1, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Lest anyone think that Cabrera has put himself on a straight path to perennial All-Star nods and Cy Young Award contention, let's pump the brakes a bit.

As his walk rate has only improved from 15.8 percent in 2021 to 12.5 percent this season, control is still something he needs to work on. He also undercuts his fastball velocity by not getting as much extension on his release as a 6'5", 217-pound hurler probably should. His average extension is the same as that of Chad Kuhl, who's two inches shorter.

And yet if a mid-rotation starter is all Cabrera becomes for the Marlins, it might only be because they have better options for the top of their rotation.

Rather than a slight against Cabrera, this is above all a compliment for Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez. Both were excellent in 2021, and now they have a 1.86 ERA between them through their first 23 starts of this season. Alcantara, in particular, is on one heck of a run:

Sarah Langs @SlangsOnSports

Pitchers with a 5-start span of 40+ IP &amp; an ERA under 0.45, since 2010:<br><br>2022 Sandy Alcantara<br>2015 Jake Arrieta<br>2015 Clayton Kershaw<br>2014 Clayton Kershaw<br>2012 R.A. Dickey<br>2011 Cliff Lee<br>2010 Matt Cain

Apart from Alcantara and Lopez, the Marlins also have two electrifying left-handers in Trevor Rogers and Jesus Luzardo. Rogers was the runner-up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting for 2021, while Luzardo has struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings since coming over from the Oakland Athletics via trade last July.

As talented as Cabrera is, it's also telling that we don't even have him ranked as the best pitching prospect in Miami's system. Or even the second-best, for that matter.

The second-best is right-hander Max Meyer, whose slider was rated by MLB.com's Jim Callis as the best of any prospect coming into the season. The best Marlins prospect is fellow righty Eury Perez, a 6'8", 220-pound dynamo who's whiffed 56 batters in 38 innings for Double-A Pensacola this year.

With this much pitching talent in their midst, the only question the Marlins have to answer going forward is which five they'll want to roll with at any given time. Which is to say that Cabrera will have to continually earn his starting job if he wants to keep it.

It's to his credit, then, that he's pitching like a guy who knows that.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.