A good middle infield combination is hard to find. Commonly, one or both members of a team's double play tandem will excell defensively, but fail to contribute better than just a token amount of offense. The Padres seem to have found a successful middle infield pairing in rookie 2B Jedd Gyorko and SS Everth Cabrera. The pair rank third and fourth on the Padres in wRC+ (min. 100 PA), respectively.
Paul Swydan of FanGraphs recently examined the top middle infield combinations in the league so far this season:
Cabrera and Gyorko stand head and shoulders above the pack so far this season. The A’s are the only other team where both middle infield members have posted a 125 wRC+ or better. And while it’s too early to read much into Gyorko’s defensive ability, he’s appeared to make the second base conversion more easily than had been expected, given his third base pedigree and stocky frame.
The rise of the Padres double-play tandem has certainly been one of the more surprising developments in 2013. Everth Cabrera, affectionately known as "Cabby" by Padres fan, was plucked from the Rockies organization in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft. After performing well during the 2009 season in San Diego, Cabrera opened the 2010 campaign as the Padres starting SS, but was plagued by a hamstring injury that caused him to eventually lose his position to Jason Bartlett and be shuttled off to AAA-Tucson.
Cabrera eventually regained his place in the San Diego startling lineup and, despite only playing in 115 games, led the NL in SB in 2012 with 44. He struggled at the plate however, posting a .291 wOBA in 449 PA, 20th among all SS with at least 300 PA.
This season Cabrera has improved his plate discipline, slashing his K% dramatically from 24.5% in 2012 to 16.5 through 65 games in 2013. The adjustment in his plate approach and the addition of a bit of previously unseen power have led to a marked improvement in his wOBA, surging up to .345 in 297 PA.
Note: Everth Cabrera was among the players named in the documents related to the alleged South Florida based performance enhancing drug supplier Biogenesis, so it remains to be seen if his increased power output is artificial.
The other half of the Padres middle infield, Jedd Gyorko, was the Padres second-round draft pick in 2010 out of the University of West Virginia. A highly touted prospect, Gyorko hit well at every level during his minor league career, playing almost exclusively at 3B.
With All-Star Chase Headley firmly entrenched at the hot corner, Gyorko accepted an opportunity to compete for the starting 2B position in Spring Training. After 1584 minor league PA, the San Diego front office decided to set aside their service-clock concerns and bring Gyorko to San Diego for Opening Day.
The front office's trust in Gyorko has paid off. Before going on the 15-day disabled list with strained groin, the West Virginia native appeared competent and polished at the keystone. While many were surprised at how well Gyorko adapted to a position he had played infrequently during his minor league career, they likely shouldn't have been. During his college career, Gyorko primarily played SS and spent his sophomore season at 2B in deference to an older teammate.
Jedd Gyorko also has carried the skills he demonstrated during his three-year minor league career with him to big leagues. After struggling to a .247/.317/.323 line in 104 April PA, he adjusted to the level of competition and posted a .303/.361/.545 line in May over 108 PA.
As with any young team, San Diego (average age: 28.7), consistency is a prized commodity. Prior to going on the disabled list on Monday, Gyorko had been left out of manager Bud Black's lineup just three times. Everth Cabrera has played in all but one of the Padres 65 games thus far.
Additionally, keeping costs down is important to financially-challenged franchises like the Padres, whose Opening Day payroll ranked 26th in the league at $64 million. Everth Cabrera and Jedd Gyorko are under team control until 2017 and 2019, respectively.
The Padres can use their talented middle infield combination, along with other promising young players like Andrew Cashner, Cameron Maybin, Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Casey Kelly, as a foundation to build their organization into a team that can consistently compete in the tough NL West Division. With the seemingly inevitable departure of 3B Chase Headley via either trade or free agency, Jedd Gyorko may end up moving back to 3B, but the Padres have a talented farm system capable of providing an adequate replacement at 2B. The future of the Padres middle infield appears to be bright.
All statistics courtesy of our friends at FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
Contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference.