Is Jake Cave Brett Gardner’s Replacement In Left Field For The Yankees?
In recent years, Trenton has earned a reputation as the place Yankees’ prospect bats flame out. Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, prospect-after-prospect has seen his offensive production stagnate in Double-A. Jake Cave bucked this trend, while almost doubling his career home run total in two months of Eastern League play. With the big club’s offense on life support is Cave poised to be a contributor in the near future?
Listed at an even six feet and 180 pounds, he presents as heavier and shorter in person. Jake Cave is anything but an imposing figure. While he has been compared to Brett Gardner in the past, the Virginia native lacks the muscular, sprinter’s build of the Yankees current left fielder.
A glance at Cave’s triple slash line, .294/.351/.414 in 2014 and .288/.349/.407 for his career, shows a solid hitter for average with decent on-base skills and below average power. The biggest disconnect between the stats and watching Cave is figuring out if the ability to hit for average demonstrated in the minors can transfer to the MLB. Managing editor Mike Newman scouted Cave with Charleston in 2013 and noted,
On offense, he lacks pop, but has a strong feel for contact. However, his speed is more slightly above average than anything. For me, he’s not a fantasy prospect of note.
While high average, low power hitters have low strikeout totals, Cave is an exception. The outfielder employs a toe tap in his swing, yielding poor results when his timing is off. In a recent series against the Bowie Baysox, Cave had a few wild swing-and-misses on off-speed pitches. He also swings with an uppercut, compounding timing issues. In a difficult round of batting practice, four of Cave’s swings were popped up into the batting cage netting. The fifth was driven into the ground before a sixth batting ball finally left the infield.
After striking out in 23.7% of at bats with Single-A Charleston last year, Cave cut his strikeout rate to 20.8% of at bats with Advanced-A Tampa. The decline in strikeout rate came with an increase in average and a decrease in extra base power. All positive signs.
Cave appears to have made a concerted effort to sell out for power upon his promotion to Double-A Trenton. The result was the best power performance of his career to date and drop in batting average fueled strikeouts in 25% of at bats. If this trend continues, Cave may attempts to add weight at the expense of speed, essentially trading one tool (power) for two (speed and defense).
Speed is an underrated aspect of Jake Cave’s game. Consistently clocked around 4.1 seconds from home-to-first during the series with Bowie, Cave is an easy plus runner. The center fielder was able to rely on his speed to beat out a single on a ground ball to the shortstop in one game.
Unfortunately, Cave has struggled to turn raw speed into production on the base paths. After stealing 18 bases in 27 attempts in 115 games in 2013, Cave has only managed 12 bases in 18 attempts in 132 games in 2014.
To categorize Cave is a classic “tweener” with a bat for center field and glove for left field is premature. In addition using his speed to track balls down, Cave demonstrated the ability to quickly read the ball off the bat and make correct decisions in the outfield. The standout play was an over the shoulder catch on a deep drive to center field off the bat of Kyeong Kang. Cave’s play ended what was an otherwise shaky inning of work by Trenton starter Jaron Long, who was allowing hard contact.
Cave’s .273/.344/.455 line at Double-A Trenton represents a bit of fool’s gold. Cave does not have the frame or raw power to support a power-based approach without making significant sacrifices on defense and the bases. If this happens, Cave would present as a low average, low on base percentage hitter with moderate power, resulting in a fourth outfielder profile.
However, if Cave focuses on speed hitting for average by simplifying his swing and utilizing a flatter plane, the Yankees prospect profiles poor man’s Brett Gardner; an atypical corner outfielder who generates additional value from strong defense.
Tool Present Future Projected Role Fourth outfielder on playoff contender Hitting Ability 20 45 Power 30 40 Speed 60 50 Fielding Ability 50 50 Arm 50 50
Owning Jake Cave
Let’s face it, most fantasy baseball owners scout the stats when it comes to prospects. Additionally, Yankees always have premium value when compared to prospects on lesser known teams. At 21, Cave has advanced two levels while maintaining a batting average close to .300. He’s flashed some power and stolen base ability to boot. In deep dynasty leagues, Jake Cave is worth adding for the simple fact he can be included as the third or fourth prospect in a mega deal and whet the opposing owners whistle. So while it’s certainly an achievement to improve peripherals across the board while advancing levels of competition, expecting him to become an asset is premature. However, in the deepest of dynasty leagues where every fourth outfielder in MLB has value (these really do exist), Jake Cave is worth the speculative stash.
4 Sep 2014 / Fabian McNally /
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