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’.