David McCabe may not have had the best start to his first full professional season, but he ended it on an extended tear and has pushed himself towards a chance in the upper minors next season.
The Braves drafted McCabe with their fourth round pick, 125th overall, in the 2022 MLB Draft.
Preseason Report Card
Hailing from Oshawa, Ontario, McCabe spent three seasons as a power-hitting infielder for UNC Charlotte. After a 16-homer season in 2022, McCabe was drafted by the Braves, and was the final signing to wrap up Atlanta’s 2022 draft haul. McCabe had a fine debut in 2022 with Augusta (99 wRC+), and went into the offseason as one of the system’s top position player prospects. He was seen as a player with middle-of-the-lineup potential, but a number of questions centered around his experience and future role. He had limited exposure against high-level competition in college, and going into the 2023 season as a 23-year-old made him relatively old for a prospect considering his lack of exposure to top pitching.
Additionally, as McCabe filled out in college, he became more limited defensively. While the Braves were planning to trot him out as a third baseman, there was strong opinions floating around that his future was as a first baseman and/or designated hitter.
What we saw in 2023
Despite his age, McCabe surprisingly debuted back at Single-A Augusta to kick off the season, which was not a good place to answer questions about his ability to handle better pitching. Even worse, for the first month of the season, McCabe looked lifeless at the plate. He had his occasional flashes of strength with a couple of impressive opposite field home runs, but whiffed at an alarming rate, racking up a 33 percent strikeout rate and 86 wRC+. McCabe’s defense also showed little progression at third base, further solidifying the idea of a move across the diamond.
It looked bleak, but key swing adjustments were on the horizon, allowing McCabe to quicken his path to the ball and better handle velocity. Over his final 18 games in Single-A, he cut his strikeout rate down to 19 percent and posted a ridiculous 218 wRC+ to earn a trip up to High-A Rome.
He continued ripping through the level and put up a 143 wRC+ through the end of July with a .185 isolated power that was impressive for the run environment he played in. His power dried up down the stretch and he ended his 2023 in a bit of a swoon, but between August and September, McCabe walked more than he struck out and finished as overall one of the top hitters in the system. McCabe then got assigned to the Arizona Fall League, where his power continued to be absent. He walked a ridiculous 24 percent of the time down in Salt River, but the strikeouts piled on and his strikeout rate cleared 30 percent.
It’s hard to draw major conclusions from the Arizona Fall League stint. McCabe had already played 123 games, which was far more than his career high of 71 the previous year. However, for McCabe, that was really the first time we’ve consistently seen him against high-level competition and he struggled to make contact. He has natural strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park, but his swing can get long and leads to struggles with better velocities. He has a strong feel for the zone, but will need to go into 2023 looking to attack Double-A pitchers, who will be more capable of taking advantage of his at times overly-patient approach.
McCabe has to hit in order to be an every day major leaguer, as his defensive limitations will stress his offensive toolset significantly. While he has proven that A-level pitching is in his wheelhouse, there is going to be much to prove going into 2024. His adjustments last season are promising, and McCabe is a tenacious worker who has shown up and put his best forward each game. He’ll need that as he jumps to Mississippi, a historically tough move to make, and one that will likely be critical for his long-term path.