Asdrubal Cabrera all the talk these days

The best shortstop in the American League this year is not closing in on 3,000 hits, he's getting close to 500. He has an unusual first name, his last name is the same as his double-play partner and he was traded for a current ESPN analyst who had only 17 hits after the deal.

Meet Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians. He is 25 years old, a switch-hitter and, so far this season, the best player on the best team in baseball. Don't tell him that, he will wave you off and change the subject as quickly as possible, fearing too much talk is not good. But Indians second baseman Orlando Cabrera keeps bringing up how good Asdrubal Cabrera can be, something that started, Indians manager Manny Acta said, "the first day of spring training.''

Orlando Cabrera smiled. "I talk to him every day,'' he said. "I watch him take batting practice, and he has tremendous power to all fields. I go to him and ask, 'Why are you choking up?' He will look at us in BP and say, 'Hey, I'm going oppo [opposite field],' and he doesn't just go oppo, he goes oppo 10 rows up. It's incredible. He is still an underrated played, but before this season, he didn't believe he could do what he's doing now. Now he does.''

The numbers are striking. Cabrera is hitting .305 with a team-leading 10 home runs and 34 RBIs, each of which lead AL shortstops, as well. Sunday against the Reds, he became the fourth Indians player ever to record five hits, hit two home runs and drive in five runs in one game and joined Roy McMillan of the 1960 Reds as the only shortstops in baseball history to do that. Monday against the Red Sox, Cabrera went 3-for-4, including a go-ahead RBI double in the eighth inning that gave the Indians a 3-2 win. That made it eight hits in nine at-bats, and all Cabrera would say after the game was, "I'm feeling really good now.''

In the historic 5-for-5 game against the Reds, "He came to the dugout after the home run to right-center and said that he didn't hit that ball that well,'' Orlando Cabrera said. "And it still went way out.'' The next night, he homered again to right-center. "I'm telling you, when he gets a ball airborne to right-center, it goes out every time,'' Orlando Cabrera said. On Asdrubal Cabrera's game-winning hit against Boston -- a two-out double in the eighth with first base open and slumping Shin-Soo Choo on deck -- one Indian said, "I can't believe they pitched to him.''

Cabrera has always been a good hitter -- he batted .308 in 2009 -- but the power is new this year. He never hit more than eight homers in any professional season. Last year, in 381 at-bats, he drove in 29 runs. But his fly ball rate has gone up in each of the past three years, which helps him to hit home runs, as does the constant talk from Orlando Cabrera to go deep.

"Every day, he talks to me,'' said Asdrubal Cabrera, who is not related to Orlando. "He never stops talking. I was afraid if I started to hit home runs, my average would drop. But it hasn't. I'm not choking up now.''

Orlando Cabrera smiled again and said, "He was afraid that if he hit 10 homers this year, his average would drop to .250. I told him, 'When you hit more home runs, sometimes your average goes up.' I didn't try to tell him to hit a home run every time up, but to pick your spots and drive the ball when you can. Now he is. He's getting big hits at big times.''

Asdrubal Cabrera has had a knack for that ever since the Indians acquired him from Seattle in 2006 in exchange for Eduardo Perez, now an ESPN analyst. Cabrera has gotten better every year since the trade, but last season, his progress was slowed when he broke his right forearm, then tried to come back too early. Then he hurt his leg, and never got going afterward. Now he is healthy, and playing in every way like a player who is headed to the All-Star Game.

"He was always a good player, but this year, he is as good [a shortstop] as I've seen in a while,'' said Indians backup shortstop Adam Everett, 33, who is with his fourth major league team. "When I got here this year, I know I wasn't a threat to his position, but he introduced himself to me and told me he was glad I was here. I was very impressed by that.''

Orlando Cabrera He is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the league. He makes plays look so easy out there. And he has a tremendous arm.

-- Indians second baseman Orlando Cabrera on Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera is impressive in every way, including his defense. He grew up in Venezuela idolizing countryman Omar Vizquel, who wore uniform No. 13 in his years with the Indians, the same number Cabrera now wears. "He doesn't have the range that, say, Jack Wilson had in his prime, but he's got good range,'' Everett said. "And he catches everything hit to him.''

Said Orlando Cabrera: "He is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the league. He makes plays look so easy out there. And he has a tremendous arm.''

The only thing Asdrubal Cabrera doesn't do well is answer questions about himself -- he says, "It's too early,'' presumably meaning that he hasn't done enough in the game to warrant talking about himself too much. But Orlando Cabrera has talked to him about that, too.

"I told him that more and more interviews will be coming, and he should talk more, but he is scared to do that,'' Orlando Cabrera said. "I told him it comes with the territory of being a star.''

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.

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