02/06/11 1:52 AM EST
Padres' Cabrera shining in Caribbean Series
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
Put simply, Cabrera says he's ready to play like it's 2009 all over again. He has no other choice. The Padres are loaded in the infield after trading for shortstop Jason Bartlett and signing second baseman Orlando Hudson during the offseason.Cabrera has a challenge ahead of him. Last season, he hit .208 over 212 at-bats in 76 big league games. Padres general manager Jed Hoyer has mentioned the possibility of Cabrera starting the 2011 season in the Minor Leagues. "I'm going to Spring Training the same way I did then," Cabrera, 24, said. "I'm arriving with this attitude: I can get better, I'm hungry and I have a strong desire to make the team and do my job. The decision will be up to them." The starting shortstop for Mexico's Obregon Yaquis in this year's Caribbean Series, Cabrera went 2-for-5 with two runs in Saturday's 6-3 win against the Dominican Republic's Toros del Este at Isidoro Garcia Stadium. Mexico's series-leading record improved to 3-1, while the Dominican Republic dropped to 2-2. Puerto Rico's Caguas squad defeated Venezuela's Caribes, 4-2, in extra innings in the second game of the day. On Sunday, the Dominican Republic takes on Venezuela in the afternoon game followed by Mexico against Puerto Rico in evening's matchup. "I'm really happy to be here," said Cabrera, who is hitting .308 in the series. "I played two months in Mexico, and I had the opportunity to continue playing here so I came." Cabrera, who also played for Licey in the Dominican Republic's Winter League, hit .301 with eight stolen bases in 83 at-bats for Obregon. He continues to build confidence and says his approach at the plate has improved. "I decided to do this in order to arrive at Spring Training in optimal condition," Cabrera said. "I'm the type of person who loves baseball, and wherever there is baseball, I want to play it. Baseball in the winter is really competitive. It's going to help me a lot and so does being in the Caribbean Series." Cabrera could use the help. He followed his rookie campaign with a slow start in 2010 and was eventually replaced at shortstop when the Padres traded for veteran infielder Miguel Tejada. A series of hamstring injuries did not help. "Maybe the injuries had something to do with it, I don't know," Cabrera said. "I can't explain it. I prepared as well as I could. I just didn't do it." The Yaquis need Cabrera to perform. Obregon, which also represented Mexico in the 2008 Caribbean Series, finished 2-4 in the round robin that year. Overall, a team from Mexico has won the Caribbean Series five times since the country began participating in the tournament in 1970, with the last title coming in 2005, when it hosted the championship in Mazatlan. The first team from Mexico to win the title was Hermosillo, in 1976. Perhaps one day Cabrera, who is from Nicaragua, will be able to represent his home country in the Caribbean Series. There is discussion of adding Nicaragua and Panama to the Caribbean Confederation, but the talks have stalled because the leagues do not meet the organization's standards. Cabrera and Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla were the only players from Nicaragua on Opening Day rosters last season. There have been only 11 players from the country to play in the big leagues. Cabrera was named Nicaragua's Athlete of the Year in 2009. "It's exciting and it's very satisfying to represent Nicaragua in the world of baseball," he said. "To be in the big leagues is the best thing that can happen to a player."