If you rewound back to the Spring of 2006 and were told Jolbert Cabrera, who was just about two years removed from his 620-day tenure as a Dodger, would ultimately end up with about 17 times more plate appearances for Los Angeles than a prospect who spent five years among the franchise’s top 11 prospects, you’d be stunned and likely very disappointed.
That’s just how unpredictable baseball (and prospects) can be, as Joel Guzman wound up as just a blip in the history of the Dodgers while Cabrera started 82 games for the Dodgers in 2003 after being a very minor deadline acquisition in 2002. Unfortunately, Guzman would end up starting just 13 games in the majors, with five of those coming for Los Angeles across just nine days.
Signed by the Dodgers on July 2, 2001 out of the Dominican Republic, a 16-year-old Guzman earned a then franchise-record $2.25 million signing bonus and debuted in the organization with the GCP Dodgers and Great Falls Dodgers during the 2002 season.
While it took a few seasons for the results to show, Baseball America ranked Guzman as the No. 3 prospect in the organization ahead of 2002 and readjusted him to No. 9 before 2003. Slipping to No. 11 among the Dodgers’ prospects as he started his second season at High-A Vero Beach, Guzman took off with a .307/.349/.550/.900 line in 357 PAs for the Dodgers. Named a Florida State League All-Star and to the 2004 Futures Game, Guzman progressed to Double-A Jacksonville, where he slashed .280/.325/.522/.847 in 200 PAs as a 19-year-old.
Now ranked as the No. 1 prospect for the Dodgers and No. 5 in all of major league baseball, Guzman slashed .287/.351/.475/.826 in 496 PAs for Jacksonville during the 2005 season as he was named a Southern League All-Star. However, Guzman would slip to No. 3 in the organization, behind Chad Billingsley and Andy LaRoche, and No. 26 in baseball, as that 2005 season would end up being the highest single-season on-base percentage of his career. Consistently striking out about three to four times as often as walking, Guzman’s 6-foot-7 frame was nearing its end as a shortstop and by extension his high value.
Set to move up to Triple-A Las Vegas for 2006, Guzman moved off short during Spring Training as the Dodgers had Rafael Furcal, Cesar Izturis and Oscar Robles at the position in the majors. Landing in left field and first base with a little work at third, Guzman earned another invite to the Futures Game as he slashed .297/.353/.464/.817 for the 51s.
That appearance actually came after his Los Angeles Dodgers career began and concluded.
Despite the Dodgers having to rely on Jose Cruz Jr. and Ricky Ledee in left field, Guzman could not make the Dodgers out of Spring Training as he transitioned to the outfield and had no at-bats in Triple-A. That opened the door for Andre Ethier, who claimed the left field role with a .973 OPS in his first month in the majors.
An injury to Jeff Kent further destabilized a Dodgers infield that was already parading a group of players through third base. Guzman joined that rotation on June 1, lasting a little more than a week while Willy Aybar manned second base. Hilariously, neither would be on the Dodgers two months later with Guzman sent back to Las Vegas upon Kent’s return from the injured list.
In his eight games, including five starts at third base, Guzman slashed .211/.348/.211/.558 in 23 PAs with two strikeouts to three walks. All four of his hits went for singles as his power didn’t have the time to show up. Traded to Tampa Bay for Julio Lugo on July 31, 2006, Guzman’s fall within the Dodgers organization was complete.
Closing the 2006 season with a .193/.228/.386/.615 line for Triple-A Durham, Guzman ranked 10th in the Rays organization to begin the 2007 season. Getting 17 games with eight starts for the Rays between mid-August to the end of September, Guzman slashed .243/.282/.378/.660 without a home run and never returned to the majors.
Guzman became a free agent after two years in Triple-A for the Rays and jumped between the Nationals, Orioles, the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, the Reds, Mexico and independent ball between 2009 and 2017.
Signed by the Montreal Expos, Cabrera spent seven years in the minors before signing with Cleveland for the 1998 season. Briefly making his major league debut on April 12, 1998, Cabrera got two at-bats before spending the rest of the year in Triple-A. Purely a utility player, Cabrera held a .582 OPS for Cleveland in his 619 PAs between 1998 and 2002 while playing every position except first base and catcher.
The Dodgers were just 2.5 games behind the first-place D-backs on July 22 when they sent left-handed pitcher Lance Caraccioli to Cleveland for Cabrera. It took a month for Cabrera to debut for Los Angeles as he hit .343/.417/.500/.917 in Triple-A Las Vegas, with the Dodgers now seven games back of Arizona.
Getting just 15 PAs in 10 games to close out 2002, Cabrera started one game apiece at second and third for the Dodgers as the team finished with 92 wins to take third place in the NL West. Cabrera’s impact would actually be felt in 2003 when he began the season as the Dodgers’ Opening Day second baseman. That wouldn’t be a regular occurrence as Alex Cora was the regular second baseman in 2003, but Cabrera did 40 at second base, with another 28 starts in center field. Often moving around within games, doing so in 36 of his 128 games, Cabrera also started four games at first base, four games in left field and three apiece at third base and shortstop.
Cabrera honestly earned the playing time as he slashed .282/.332/.438/.770 in his 380 PAs during the 2003 season, ranking second on the team in OPS among the team’s eight qualified batters. That includes a 39-year-old Fred McGriff and 24-year-old Adrian Beltre, though this is the Dodgers roster that added 44-year-old Rickey Henderson to the roster in July.
Amazingly, Cabrera managed to factor into four different extra innings victories in 2003. Drawing a two-out walk in the 12th inning against the Tigers on June 10, Cabrera came home on a single by Cora in what became a 3-1 victory. A few days later in Cleveland against his former team, Cabrera doubled home Mike Kinkade with one out leading to a 4-3 win in 10 innings.
Once again facing a former team on Aug. 20, Cabrera doubled with one out in the bottom of the 10th and scored the winning run on Beltre’s three-run walk off homer. That walk-off win came after Eric Gagne allowed an 0-2 solo homer by Vladimir Guerrero to break a 0-0 tie in the top of the 9th, one of just two home runs he allowed in 2003, though it obviously did not affect his save streak, which sat at 49 that night. The Dodgers tied the game once again on a single, error, bunt and ground out in the bottom of the inning to set up Beltre’s game-winner.
With the Dodgers still within reach of the Wild Card on Sept. 24, Cabrera broke a 1-1 tie in the 10th against the Padres with a double to score Dave Roberts and win that one as well.
That would pretty much be it for Cabrera as a Dodger as he was caught in Paul DePodesta’s roster moves a month and a half after his hiring. No longer needed as the Dodgers brought in multiple outfielders, Jose Hernandez and Antonio Perez, Cabrera was sent to Seattle for Aaron Looper and Ryan Ketchner.
He’d get another 391 PAs for the Mariners while once again playing seven positions, but couldn’t repeat his 2003 season and finished with an OPS of .696. He jumped to Japan for a few years before joining the Cardinals, Rockies, Reds and Orioles from 2007 to 2009. Cabrera did get one last run in the majors with Cincinnati in 2008, and he finished up his playing career in Mexico.
This past Spring, Cabrera served as Colombia’s manager for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, with the team going 1-3 despite beating Mexico in the Pool C opener.