Daniel Cabrera wants to be great. He wants to be one of the greatest. He’s already said so. In LSU history. In SEC history. In NCAA history. Shoot, maybe even in MLB history. That’s why you play the game, right? It’d be foolish to say otherwise.
Considering so many phenomenal players have stepped on the field at Alex Box Stadium throughout the years, that won’t be easy. The names of former LSU baseball players who’ve made an MLB team practically jump off the page: Alex Bregman, Aaron Nola, D.J. LeMahieu, Kevin Gausman, Mikie Mahtook, Aaron Hill, Brad Hawpe. You could even go back to Albert Belle and Joe Adcock, who combined for more than 700 MLB home runs.
That’s not even including the guy whose role Cabrera will be taking over in 2020. You know, the same guy who just last season wrapped up his collegiate career as LSU’s all-time leader in hits, games played, triples and at-bats. That’d be Antoine Duplantis.
But as Louisiana State University embarks on a new decade of home-run swatting, strikeout punching and slick fielding in Baton Rouge, it’s time for a new “guy” to step up and carry this team back to the College World Series for the first time since 2017.
Enter Daniel Cabrera.
Who is Daniel Cabrera?
Read up on Cabrera’s team bio and you’ll find that he is a “very developed hitter who rarely strikes out and hits the ball with authority” and “an outstanding defensive outfielder that possesses a strong and accurate arm.”
Translation: He can do it all.
The 6-foot-1 junior is a five-tool outfielder that was tabbed a 2020 First-Team Preseason All-American by Baseball America after manning left field for LSU baseball the past two seasons.
As a sophomore, he had what he considered a “down” season after hitting .284 with 12 home runs, 12 doubles and 50 RBIs. Seven of those homers and half of those RBIs came in 26 SEC regular-season games.
That’s no small task considering the pitching they saw out of schools like Florida, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Read up on Emerson Hancock and Asa Lacy if you’re unfamiliar.
Cabrera battled a hand injury that hindered him for a portion of the 2019 season. He proved he was strong by hitting well toward the end of the season and by earning a nod to the Cape Cod League All-Star Team over the summer as a member of the Harwich (Mass.) Mariners.
Cabrera’s first year on campus may have been more impressive. As a wide-eyed freshman in the SEC, he posted a .315 batting average to go along with eight homers and 54 RBIs. Outlets like D1 Baseball and Perfect Game named him a Freshman All-American. He played for the U.S. Collegiate National Team that summer.
He stayed true to his commitment to LSU of high school despite being rated the No. 82 prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft by Baseball America. As a senior at Parkview Baptist High School in Baton Rouge, he hit .510 and garnered first-team All-State honors.
Numbers aren’t all that appealing, though, so I’ll let his pretty swing do the talking.
That’s the kind of sweet-swinging left-hander every coach dreams of. It’s the kind of swing that made LSU head coach Paul Mainieri say his team needed Cabrera for a deep postseason run in ’19. It’s the kind of stroke that makes teammates gawk.
“He has one of the nicest swings I’ve ever seen,” Duplantis told The Advocate.
Daniel Cabrera and the No. 8 Jersey
Mainieri has a tradition at LSU. Every year, whomever wears the No. 8 jersey is essentially the captain. That player, usually an LSU upperclassman, assumes a leadership role for the Tigers’ program and embodies what it means to be an LSU Tiger.
Selflessness. Talent. Experience. It’s a combination of sorts.
Mainieri allows this title to be passed down from player-to-player. Duplantis roamed right field and wore the No. 8 the last two seasons. Before that, guys like Cole Freeman, Jake Fraley and Alex Bregman all donned it as well.
When Duplantis chose to pass it on to Cabrera, the sweet-swinging outfielder accepted the honor and responsibility with open arms.
“I’m not going to try to do anything special,” Cabrera told LSUSports.com. “I’m just going to try to be myself and keep playing the game the right way.”
Twenty homers, 30 doubles, and 104 RBIs certainly say “the right way.” But Cabrera will be assuming more than just his new leadership role in 2020. The Tigers’ primary leftfielder is sliding over from left field to center field, where the speedy Zach Watson played last season.
Cabrera isn’t the speedster that Watson was, but he did run a 6.6 60-yard dash while in the Cape Cod League. He’s definitely athletic enough to man the middle of the outfield, and he’s up for the challenge.
“Honestly, I told coach wherever he wants me to play I’m good with it,” Cabrera told LSUSports.com. “If it’s left, center, right, whatever he wants me to do that’s what I’m going to do. Whatever helps the team win.”
That, right there, is why he’s the guy.
This article was originally published February 13, 2020.