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Browsing Posts tagged Lorenzo Cain

One of my first reactions to the Zack Greinke trade was that Lorenzo Cain would be, without question, the Opening Day centerfielder in 2011.   As time has past, it appears more and more likely that Melky Cabrera, for better or worse, will join Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur as the starting outfielder.   While such an alignment is not all that appealing and certainly not all that exciting, my disgust at the idea has faded.

Let me start by saying that I am a ‘Lorenzo Cain guy’.   I believe he might well be the future in centerfield, maybe not an All-Star, but certainly a David DeJesus level player who can be an above average defender in center.   Some skeptics will point to Cain’s unsustainable BABIP at all three levels he played at last season and think otherwise, however.    There is validity in the skepticism given that Cain’s BABIP last season were .402 at AA, .371 at AAA and .370 in 43 games in the majors.   Keep in mind what Cain’s BABIP have been in other seasons before you say his fine 2010 campaign was a mirage:

  • 2006 – .369 (A)
  • 2007 – .341 (Hi-A)
  • 2008 – .344 (Hi-A), .352 (AA)
  • 2009 – .252 (AA)

I left off time spent at levels that Cain collected less than 75 at-bats, by the way.    So, while Lorenzo Cain is not going to post a BABIP of .400, it appears that he is a player who might routinely post numbers that we would call ‘lucky’.   There are guys out there who simply have higher than average BABIPs year after year (see Aviles, Mike or DeJesus, David).

Luck or no luck, whether you believe in Lorenzo Cain or not, I am beginning to think that he will not only NOT be the Opening Day centerfielder, but also will not even be on the 25 man roster on March 31st.   While part of me hates that idea, part of me also can live with it as well.

To begin with, for better or worse, the Royals did sign Melky Cabrera.   While the amount they are spending on Melky is not enough for even the Royals to worry about, giving him a couple of months to further reinforce that he is what he is does no real harm to the future of this organization. 

With just 122 AAA plate appearances on his resume, Lorenzo Cain probably could use a little additional seasoning at that level.   At the minimum, sending Cain to Omaha for part of another season would give him some additional time to improve his routes to balls in center.   Truthfully, no one really cares (well, maybe Minda Haas does) if Cain takes a bad route in Sarpy County and turns what should have been a nice catch in the alley into a triple.   If it happens on March 31st in Kaufmann, however…..

Realistically, what are the odds that Gordon and Cabrera AND Francouer all hit in 2011?   I mean, when was the last time the Royals were that fortuneate.    By mid-June, at least one of those guys will likely have played poorly enough that no one will lose any sleep over taking them out of the everyday lineup in favor of Cain.   Heck, it is entirely possible that David Lough will be a welcome respite for another of the original three by then as well!

While I still hold out hope that Cain is the everyday centerfield from day one next season, I no longer have any angst over him starting the year in Omaha, either.   The only bad move the Royals can make with him would be to keep him in the majors and not play Lorenzo everyday.  

Since we are talking about the Kansas City Royals here, choosing the one bad option out of three is always a possibility.     In this case, I have hope that the organization will, in fact, choose wisely.    They have promised Francouer an everyday gig and, probably intimated as much to Melky Cabrera.   While the organizational frustration level is sky high with Alex Gordon, they have to give him another half season at least, don’t they?   With Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier already in hand, go ahead and give Cain a couple of months in AAA.   The decision of whom to replace will be much clearer on June 1st than April 1st anyway.

Like Mike Moustakas, there really is not a particularly compelling reason to rush Lorenzo Cain in 2011.   Come June 15th or so, however, if the Royals’ big league lineup does not include Moustakas at third, Cain in center and Mike Montgomgery and Danny Duffy in the rotation, a column like this will not be quite so ‘organizationally positive’.

Episode #038 – What else are we going to discuss?  Of course we discuss the Zack Greinke trade in detail.  I have Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball on to discuss the Brewers perspective.  In this star-studded, two-guest podcast, I also have Craig Brown my co-writer at Royals Authority on to break down the trade in detail and how it impacts the team now and into the future.  Nowhere else do you get 2 hours of almost uninterrupted discussion on the Royals and Greinke, so check out this episode of the podcast.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs038.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Larry on Twitter @wezen_ball and check out his blog: Wezen-Ball, and listen to his podcast.

Follow Craig on Twitter @royalsauthority

Music used in this podcast:

The Staple Singers – Who Took The Merry Out of Christmas

Pearl Jam – Unemployable

Captain Beefheart – Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles

Jimmy Smith – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

How to Get the Podcast:

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As Royals’ fans, we are a jaded group.   That has never been so evident as the immediate reactions that were voiced and written as we all got wind of the trade of Zack Greinke to the Brewers.   Primarily, the return was widely disparaged simply because, well, because it was the Royals getting the return.  

With this organization’s track record, over multiple owners and general managers, who can argue with the logic that if the Royals traded an elite player whatever they got back must have been a bad deal.   Going off the top of my head and without getting into a debate over who was ‘elite’ and who was not, here is a partial list of players the royals have received:

Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, Keith Miller, Chris Stynes, David Sinnes,  Tony Medrano,  Blake Stein, Jeff D’Amico, Brad Rigby, Angel Berroa, A.J. Hinch, Roberto Hernandez (an OLD Roberto mind you), Nefii Perez, John Buck, Mark Teahan, Mike Wood

Given that list, I get the skepticism.   I also understand the concerns that Dayton Moore, like Allard Baird before him, limited the market by insisting on ‘up the middle major league ready talent’.    It might well be that some teams gave up early or never called to inquire on Greinke figuring that they did not have those type of prospects.   How would the above list look if Robinson Cano was there instead of Mark Teahen?

However, Moore was also at times said to be looking for a major league ready pitcher with ‘Greinke-like’ potential as part of any deal.   While I think Jake Odorizzi might some day be very good, no one is expecting him to become an ace.   So, it seems that the Royals at least were willing to entertain offers that were not exactly in line with their supposed demands.    I wonder just how much of the market really was excluded?

We know that the Washington Nationals had an offer out there and that Zack refused to waive his no-trade clause to them.   Talented reliever Drew Storen and shortstop Danny Espinosa were supposedly part of the deal, but it is unclear if Jordan Zimmerman was and who else might have been  involved.   What we do know is the deal that actually took place and the waves of angst that followed.

Ignoring the casual fan, the ones that lamented Jose Guillen being traded, there was still a pretty wide swath of ‘the Royals didn’t get near enough’ pasted across the Internet.   Alcides Escobar can’t hit, Lorenzo Cain has limited upside, Odorizzi is ‘fine for A ball’ and Jeffress likes the happy weed too much.  Given the above few paragraphs, I can understand the immediate swing to the negative, but it sure seems to be getting a little annoyed.   I say that, by the way, fully cognizant that our own site and myself have certainly beat the Royals’ organization over the head more often than not, but then it’s not like those opportunities have been hard to come by the last ten years.

Prior to the 2010 season, Alcides Escobar was the Brewers’ number one prospect (according to Baseball America), while Lorenzo Cain was number eight, Jake Odorizzi was number nine and Jeremy Jeffress was thought to have the best fastball in that organization.   Of course, an entire season has transpired since those rankings were made and one of the worst things a top prospect can do to hurt his reputation is to, you know, play games.

Beyond that, the four players fit the stereotype of so many others brought in by Dayton Moore:  two position players known for their speed and two pitchers who feature a fastball and a curve.   We have heard those traits a lot in the past and been disappointed more often than not.   That said, some guys who can really run, can also really play baseball and some pitchers (a lot actually) have good careers throwing fastballs and curves.

While the full impact, positive or negative, may not be known until Odorizzi makes the majors in a couple of years and Jeffress has hopefully managed to stay clean AND be a power reliever for a period of time, I am going to focus this morning on the two position players.     These are the two guys that are going to be the ones dealing with the Perez/Teahen/Berroa/Buck comparisons and also the two were are going to see the most of the soonest.

Next to Billy Butler batting third, Jeff Francoeur playing right field and Joakim Soria closing, the surest thing about the 2011 roster is that Escobar will be playing shortstop.   Alcides Escobar had, without question, a pretty awful rookie season.    The defensive abilities he showed in the minors surfaced in his rookie season as flashes of brilliance interspersed with bouts of inconsistency.  That said, Escobar’s UZR/150 of 4.7 still ranked eighth out of twenty-one qualified shortstops in the majors.   Defensive metrics over just one season can be wildly inaccurate, so Escobar is something of an unknown quantity in this area, but his minor league career was generally one in which scouts, prospect analysts and the Brewers’ organization wondered if this great defender could hit enough to justify a job.    For now, I feel pretty confident that Escobar either already is or will shortly become the best defensive shortstop to play for the Royals since the turn of the century.

Of course, the days of the defense only shortstop are long since past and there are questions about Escobar’s offense.    He hit just .235/.288/.326 last season for a paltry OPS+ of just 67.   Some of that was due to an unlucky .264 BABIP, but much of Alcides’ problems were an inability to control the strike zone and work the count to his advantage.    Tough rookie year or a guy who cannot hit major league pitching?

It is worth noting, however, that Escobar’s best minor league seasons at the plate occurred as he reached the higher levels of the minors.    After three fairly poor offensive years his first three years in pro ball, Escobar hit .325/.345/.377 in half a season in High A before moving to AA ball, where he struggled some.   However, in AA the next season, Alcides hit a very good .328/.363/.434 and then moved onto AAA the next season where he hit .298/.353/.409.    During his one AAA season, Escobar walked 32 times in 487 plate appearances versus 31 in 110 more plate appearances the year before in AA.   Hey, the guy is not a walk machine, but he improved from AA and AAA.

In the end, Alcides Escobar may never consistently hit to his minor league career line of .293/.333/.377, but I think there is a better than reasonable chance that he will hit better than the frankly awful rookie season numbers of 2010.   Can Escobar ever be an All-Star?   Does he have to be if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are? 

Now, Lorenzo Cain does not have the luxury of two of the best hitting prospects in baseball on the horizon to flank him.  While Cain is expected to be a good, if still somewhat raw, defensively (it’s noteworthy that Cain did not play baseball until high school), the Royals need their centerfielder to hit.   Of course, if Alex Gordon hits 35 home runs and Jeff Francoeur reverts to his rookie form, then the pressure is off – but then, this column is optimistic enough – let’s not get carried away.

Cain hit a solid .306/.348/.415 in 47 games for Milwaukee last year, helped considerably by a .370 BABIP.   While that may be cause for alarm, Cain did post a BABIP above .340 in FOUR of six minor league campaigns and one of those off-seasons was in 2009 when most of the season was derailed to an ankle injury.    Frankly, do we have any real reason to think Lorenzo cannot hit close to his minor league numbers of .291/.366/.416 and possibly add some power to those numbers given his 6’2″ 200 pound frame?

While I am certainly being optimistic, what’s the real harm?   As Royals’ fans, knowing that Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are going to be in your everyday lineup in 2011, why not give them the benefit of the doubt.   Sure, Cain has had an abnormally high BABIP for most of his career, so has Mike Aviles and David DeJesus and a slew of other guys who can basically hit.  

Yes, Escobar was awful as a rookie, just as Omar Vizquel did.    Truth is, Alcides was the Brewers’ number one prospect last season and number freaking twelve in all of baseball.   A bad rookie year suddenly makes this guy a bad player who ‘will never hit’?

Come on, let’s all take a breath on this one.  

Should we get to September and Escobar still isn’t hitting a lick and doing his Angel Berroa impression in the field,  Lorenzo Cain is taking curious routes to fly balls and hitting an empty .275, Jeffress is suspended and Odorizzi getting lit up in High A ball, then you can feel free to write me and say ‘I told you so’.     

For now, however, let’s give these guys a chance before we decide this deal was horrible.   Jurickson Profar may or may not have been offered by the Rangers and while it would be fun to have him in the system, it would also be 2014 before he even sniffed the majors.   By the way, tell me the difference between the minor league numbers of Profar or Danny Espinosa and those of Alcides Escobar.

As Royals’ fans, we have plenty to worry about this season.  Namely, a rotation that starts with Hochevar and ends with ‘gee, I don’t know, somebody’.    I will be the first to lead the charge when Melky Cabrera starts six of the first eight games in leftfield in front of Alex Gordon (or five of seven in front of Lorenzo Cain in center), but I am content to say that the four players the Royals received for Zack Greinke might, just might, be a pretty decent return after all.

Zack Greinke is no longer a Royal.  It’s painful to say, and I’m sad to see my favorite player in a long time move on.  You likely already are aware that he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for  Alcides Escobar (SS), Lorenzo Cain (CF), Jeremy Jeffress (RHP) and Jake Odorizzi (RHP).  I know that everyone really likes to read people’s opinions on which team “won” and which team “lost” any given trade and there’s plenty of that all over the internet and Twitter.  If you must know my feelings, I like the trade.  The Royals had to trade Greinke at some point and they got multiple quality players in return.  At the very least, I don’t think many people could in good faith suggest that this trade is a total bomb.  So instead of trying to sell you on why I like the trade or why you should like the trade, let’s talk about what just got a whole heck of a lot more interesting: the 2011 season.

Like anyone else who roots for the Royals, I want to see more wins on the field, and frankly I don’t care how they accomplish it.  Barring a bunch of extra wins, I’d like to at least watch a team that interests me.  Honestly, the last couple of years have been some of the least interesting and hard to root for Royals teams that I can remember.  They were filled with boring players who had no future with the Royals organization.  It was like watching a bunch of hired guns who couldn’t really shoot all that well.  Going out to see Zack Greinke pitch, Joakim Soria close or Billy Butler hit were the lone reasons to get excited.  The Royals did lose one of those marquee names today, but the team just became much more interesting.

For the past year and a half (it seems so much longer) we’ve been watching Yuniesky Betancourt play sub par defense and hit with a woeful bat.  He’s been a daily reminder of the fact that the Royals gave up Minor League talent in order to get, at best a replacement level shortstop.  For many of us, he was the embodiment of a front office who can’t really identify quality Major League talent and over-values certain aspects of player evaluation.  Now that Betancourt is heading to Milwaukee and the Royals got Alcides Escobar in return, the position just became interesting.  Escobar is known as a very good defender who has the ability to be elite.  He has struggled throughout his career with the bat, but did show some signs of putting it together in the upper Minors.  He’ll never likely hit for any power, but he only needs to be near average offensively for a SS and he becomes very exciting.  Either way, he just turned twenty four and likely represents the Royals shortstop for the next five years.  This season we will get a chance to see him every single day, hopefully making spectacular plays and also developing as a Major League hitter.  I knew what we had in Yuniesky Betancourt, I’m not sure what we have yet in Escobar, but I’m pretty interested in finding out.

The Royals farm system is light on outfield prospects, and very few are close to Major League ready.  So, we’ve gotten used to Dayton Moore acquiring some free agents on one year “show me” contracts who at best can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.  These are mercenaries of the highest degree, and usually pretty low-rent mercenaries at that.  There isn’t anything particularly exciting about going to see Scott Podsednik Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur for one season in a Royals uniform.  We can still dream on Alex Gordon some, but he is running out of future projection.  Prior to this move, the most exciting part of the outfield was hoping that speedster Jarrod Dyson would get some playing time and suddenly become a completely different hitter.  Once again, after the trade things have been shaken up.  Lorenzo Cain is thrust into the mix, and he’s a 24 year old speedster who has a good glove but also a track record of being able to hit the ball.  In his first Major League season he hit .306/.348/.415.  Not bad for someone who plays a premium defensive position and can swipe some bases.  He’s young, fast and could take a really positive step developmentally in 2011.  When was the last time we could say that about a Royal center fielder?

The bullpen is always a mish-mash of new and old guys, and in general is only exciting when you don’t want it to be exciting.  Watching Joakim Soria come in and close games is one of the true joys of being a Royals fan, so there always that.  However, there is a good chance that newly acquired pitcher Jeremy Jeffress will be a part of that bullpen in 2011 as well.  He can hit 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun and is compared to Joel Zumaya.  I don’t think that he’s a guy I’d want to rely on to close games just yet, but to have him available in the 7th or 8th inning is pretty cool if you ask me.

Last, but not least, the Royals also got starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi.  While he is almost certainly not going to make the Major League team any more interesting, there’s a chance he’s the best part of this whole trade.  He’s a right handed starter who potentially has four “plus” pitches and would have been the top prospect in the Brewers farm system.  How he pitches this year, and how he progresses through the system, along with guys like Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery will be worth watching.  This farm system just went from being a once in a decade type of system to a once in a generation one.

I know that people will still want to debate whether or not this was good enough return for the 2009 Cy Young winning pitcher.  Honestly, I’ll still do it myself.  However, the deal is done and we have to live with it.  I think it’s time to stop using the franchises past errors and bad luck to judge how things are going to go in the future.  The state of the world as it stands today is that the Royals have more talent than any other franchise in baseball, an owner who has been much more open to spending money, and no real financial obligations in the near future.  In other words, they have talent, financial flexibility and money to spend.  When was the last time they had even one of those?  It really is a wonderful time to be a Royals fan, and 2011 is the start.

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