Tennessee Smokies pitching coach and big league veteran Jeff Fassero has seen Alberto Cabrera as both a reliever and a starter.
His verdict? He can succeed in either role in the Majors.
The Cubs' No. 18 prospect recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts over eight innings Monday night as Double-A Tennessee shut down visiting Jackson, 5-1.
The 24-year-old right-hander allowed one run -- a solo homer -- on three hits with two walks and a wild pitch. He threw 67 of 104 pitches for strikes.
"The way he has been throwing, he can be a very good starter. We just have to wait and see," said Fassero, who won 121 games for nine big league teams from 1991-2006. "He can definitely pitch out of the bullpen, but if he wants to be a starter, he has to be a little more consistent.
"We would like to see his fastball percentage go up a little bit from tonight and we'd like to see him use his changeup more. As a bullpen guy, you only really need two pitches, but as a starter you need three."
Signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 2005, Cabrera fanned at least one batter in all eight innings. He struck out the side in the fifth and recorded two punchouts in the first, third and eighth innings.
Cabrera's previous career high was 10 strikeouts over 6 1/3 three-hit innings for Class A Advanced Daytona in a 5-1 loss to Lakeland on Aug. 27, 2010.
"He was very good tonight," Fassero said. "He pitched very well down in the zone and he mixed his pitches and changed speeds very well. He was using all his pitches, his fastball, slider and changeup. His fastball was really good, but his slider was his out pitch."
Cabrera threw 34 of 55 fastballs for strikes and 26 of 38 sliders in the zone. Of his 11 changeups, only four were not strikes.
"This is the best [outing] he has had. This is probably the best performance we have had all year long, getting eight innings out of your starter," Fassero said. "He mixed his pitches and got ahead of hitters. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 28 batters. When you do that, it's pretty good."
Zach Rosscup came on in the ninth and worked a hitless inning to seal the victory.
Cabrera, who made his Major League debut last August against the Pirates, is being stretched out for a potential callup as a starter. A native of the Dominican Republic, he's appeared in 170 Minor League games and made 108 starts over eight seasons. After a handful of relief appearances with Class A Peoria in 2009, he returned to the rotation the following year.
Last season, Cabrera pitched exclusively in relief for the first time. He went 4-1 with five saves and a 3.11 ERA in 36 games between Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, then posted a 1-1 record and 5.40 ERA in 25 games with the Cubs.
"Last year, he was in the bullpen and he was very dominant. This, year he is starting, but his fastball velocity is not as high," Fassero said of Cabrera, who worked consistently between 95-97 mph as a reliever but has been between 90-96 mph as a starter.
"[We are using him] as a starter to get him his innings and get him his work. He's been working on his changeup, but he needs to use it more ... He has never had consistent command, but now he is starting to get it."
Cabrera got plenty of support from Justin Bour, who smacked his fourth and fifth homers of the season and drove in four runs. Elliot Soto added the first roundtripper of his four-year career, walked and scored twice for the Smokies, who ended a three-game slide.