Higüey, Dominican Republic – Located on the far east coast of the Dominican Republic, Higüey is the capital city of the La Altagracia Province and survives almost entirely on tourism, with most residents employed at the hotel complexes in nearby Punta Cana.
Paloma Gabriel is no different. The 47-year-old widow has worked in Punta Cana for nearly 20 years, forced to find a job after her husband died in a car accident when their young son, Luis, was just 14 months old. Paloma never re-married, instead focusing her energy on her career and her young son. She worked her way up from a hotel maid to today being the general manager of one of the islands most successful hotels, and it is clear her incredible work ethic was passed on to her only son.
As a child, Luis Gabriel was always the fastest kid around. As a 9-year-old, he was playing in the local pickup baseball games with the towns 14 and 15-year-old boys and doing just fine. By the time he was a teenager, every baseball “scout” in the Dominican wanted to train this kid. Eventually, a former scout of the defunct Major League Baseball was able to persuade 17-year-old Luis and Paloma that going across the Dominican Republic to tryouts for CBL scouts would be his best course of action. Sometimes, these tryout periods could last months, he warned, but it was the best opportunity for him to be discovered.
It took one tryout. In front of a group of Austin Bats scouts, Gabriel ran a 6.75 60-yard-dash in a pair of spikes that looked like swiss cheese. He showed great instincts in the infield and tremendous potential in the outfield as well. He looked the part of the next great speedy, up the middle Dominican lead-off hitter, and Austin signed him on the spot.
Luis Gabriel was signed as a 17-year-old, and after spending one season in the Bats international complex near Higuey, he was informed he’d been traded to the Minneapolis Millers and would immediately need to report to Aiea, Hawaii for the team’s Winter League season.
“It was a lot to deal with,” Gabriel says of that off-season. “But Austin took care of me for a year, helped me learn English, and I am very thankful for that. Once I arrived in Hawaii, I knew it was going to be okay.”
As an 18-year-old playing against mostly 21 and 22-year-olds, Gabriel impressed scouts by holding his own despite the whirlwind few weeks leading up to the beginning of Winter League. He hit just .255/.287/.325 in 46 games, but added 21 steals and showed potential at both shortstop and second base. He made so many outstanding plays his teammates began calling him “The Ice Man” because he “killed hits without emotion” as one Hawaii beat writer put it.
This 46 game stint apparently was enough to impress the Minneapolis Millers organization, as they chose to move him very aggressively through their system. He began the 2022 season in AA at just 19-years-old, the league’s youngest regular by over a full year. In 109 games, Gabriel hit .267/.309/.355 with 47 steals and 32 extra base hits. He’d follow up that performance with a return to the Hawaii Winter League, where he hit .328/.381/.391 in 30 games, adding 15 steals.
In 2023, Gabriel spent the first 38 games in AA, earning a promotion to AAA by hitting .296/.367/.371. He was just 20-years-old and playing every day at the AAA level; it was clear he wasn’t far from his CBL debut. In 93 games at AAA, Gabriel hit just .272/.304/.346, but he played outstanding defense at second base while stealing 45 bases. With the organization heavily considering using Gabriel as their opening day CBL second baseman in 2024, the team sent Gabriel to the Hawaii Winter League for one final season. He hit .309/.374/.436, and was impressive enough that the Millers decided then and there he’d be their opening day second baseman as a 20-year-old (until May).
Gabriel’s rookie season was impressive, although the now-21-year-old hit just .251/.296/.337. He was among the league’s best defensive second baseman, putting a +13 ZR in 158 games, and he stole 41 bases, helping an otherwise average offense scratch across enough runs to eek their way into a playoff berth.
When the season ended, Gabriel headed back to the Dominican Republic, and had a special surprise in mind for his mother. He bought her a reasonably priced condo in Punta Cana, making her short commute to work even easier.
“She’d never quit working, she has too much pride, but I told her she had to take the condo,” Gabriel told reporters. “It’s the least I could do for her after everything she did. And I bought the CBL ticket package so she can watch all my games.”
This season, Gabriel’s role may yet again change. So far this Spring, the Millers have been using Gabriel exclusively in center field, and he’s picking it up very quickly.
“We just want to explore maybe using his speed a little more,” Millers assistant GM Vacant said. “He’s a great second baseman, no doubt, but we want to see how he does in center as well. So far, he looks like a natural out there.”
Other sources inside the organization said they expect Gabriel to spend this season at second base, but that positional flexibility has become increasingly more important inside the organization.
“I will play anywhere they ask me to,” Gabriel told reporters as Spring Training began. “I just wanna play some baseball.”
And we know his mother will be watching, both from the hotel and her wonderful new condo.