In doing some research (some being the operative term) of the Detroit Tigers’ leap from 72 wins one year to the World Series the next, I remembered that one of the key players in that leap was a centerfielder who did not get a shot at regular playing time until he was twenty-five years old.
Curtis Granderson had methodically worked his way up the minor league ladder after being drafted by the Tigers in 2002. A short season in A ball, followed by 127 games in High A, then 123 in AA and another 111 in AAA as a 24 year old. He got into 47 big league games in 2005, hitting .272/.314/.494 with 43 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances. The strikeouts were no surprise, as Granderson had fanned 129 times in his 111 AAA games and over 90 times in both his High A and AA seasons. By the way, Granderson had also raked in the minors, posted a career line of .300/.382/.494 in 413 minor league contests.
Although he was not quite a rookie in 2006, Curtis was basically a first year player when he played 159 games in 2006. Sure, he led the league in strikeouts (174), but Granderson also hit 19 home runs, 31 doubles and 9 triples. His OPS+ was bascially a league average 98 and, as we all know, he would explode in 2007: hitting 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 home runs and stealing 26 bases (in 27 attempts).
Okay, Lorenzo Cain is not going to be Curtis Granderson.
That said, they do have some historical similarities. Cain will turn 26 next April and, like Granderson, will not be considered ‘young’ should he get his first shot at regular playing time. Like Granderson, the Royals’ centerfielder in waiting has received a moderate amount of major league seasoning, hitting .302/.343/.402 in 181 major league plate appearances, with 32 strikeouts. Like Granderson, Lorenzo has raked in the minors: .295/.368/.430 in 712 minor league games and struck out a lot (575 times in 3,107 plate appearances). Without question, Lorenzo Cain is not going to exhibit the type of power that Granderson does. In essence, Cain’s upside may be as a ‘poor man’s Curtis Granderson’, which is not a bad thing at all.
This little snippet is not really to advocate ditching Melky Cabrera in favor of Cain or to persuade anyone that Cain is going to be an All-Star like Granderson. It simply points out that not every player has to come up at age 22 to have potential and not every high strikeout centerfielder is destined for major league failure. More than anything, I just thought the similarities in age and track record were worth noting.