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Melky Cabrera Gets Dramatic Once Again

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Apparently the only motivation Melky Carbera needed to get his career back on track was the threat of being stripped of his pinstripes. Following a disastrous 2008 that included a demotion to the minors and the Yankees' acquisition of Xavier Nady, it looked as if Cabrera would be the odd man out in the New York outfield. The emergence of Brett Gardner as the starting centerfielder this spring only solidified that perception.

A once heralded prospect, at 23 years old Melky Cabrera seemed washed up before his time, likely to be traded away or possibly even released. Outplayed by Gardner throughout spring training, Cabrera found himself on the major league roster only because of injuries and manager Joe Girardi's reluctance to bat Brett against left-handed pitching.

But as the season progressed the always injury-prone Nady went down, put on the DL with a torn ligament in his elbow, and Brett Gardner struggled, giving Cabrera an unexpected "last chance" to prove himself worthy of his uniform and his position. Needless to say, despite very little belief in his abilities, Melky has seized upon the opportunity and perhaps has even returned his baseball destiny to a direction leading through the Bronx.

2008 was the ultimate low point for the young Yankees outfielder. Posting a .249 batting average with an embarrassing .301 OBP and .641 OPS, Melky was so

ineffective at the plate that he was eventually demoted for a 15-game minor league stint at the Yankees AAA affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cabrera, who was only an average offensive player prior to 2008, was seemingly at a point of regression that signaled his development had stopped and was even in decay. The consensus was that Cabrera was essentially a "bust." Like Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee before him, Melky's fate was one common to many players, but especially for the Yankees, who have not produced a regular starting outfielder from their farm system (aside from Cabrera) since Bernie Williams.

But 2009 has been a total turnaround for Melky, encapsulated brilliantly by his two-run, eighth inning bomb that gave the Yankees an 8-6 victory over the Texas Rangers, a 2-1 win in the series between the teams, and the best record in the American League. Cabrera has been better by every offensive measure this season, sporting a .311 batting average, six home runs, and 22 RBIs in 148 at bats. His RBI number, most notably, is only 17 under his total from all of last year, and in 270 fewer at bats. Cabrera's .363 OBP is 62 points higher then his '08 mark and his .821 OPS — while not as high as one may like out of a Yankees outfielder — is still a vast improvement over his feeble mark from last season.

Most importantly for the Yankees, Cabrera has been outstanding in the clutch. His two-run homer on Thursday was another in a series of game winning hits Cabrera has produced this season, dating back to April 22 when he hit the first walk off home run in new Yankee Stadium history. In fact, Melky has won
four games for the Yankees from the plate in 2009, causing Girardi to state simply, "He has a knack for doing that."

While Cabrera's beginning to the season — and the drama his clutch hits have produced — has definitely repaired his status in the Yankees organization, Melky must continue his success for the entire season or it will be all for naught. Melky has improved a great deal from last season but, with the return of Xavier Nady looming, Brett Gardner steadily improving, and Austin Jackson waiting in the wings, Cabrera must demonstrate that he will continue to maintain and even increase his production at the plate and that he is capable continuing the refined, disciplined approach he has employed thus far in 2009. Otherwise, no amount of dramatic effusion will save his spot in the starting lineup.

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