Written by Tough Tony
Statement: “Melky Cabrera is what he is” Said by the majority of stat heads.
The book is still out on Melky Cabrera. But there seems to be an Internet movement that says Melky Cabrera will never be more than what he is now. Some baseball nerd websites will tell you his defense is only slightly above average and his hitting regressed last year (I like to imagine the nerds saying these statements with a slight lisp and a mouth full of braces. Even 30 year old Rob Neyer) And while his hitting did dip last year, I like to call it a sophomore slump more than regressed because the word regressed seems so final. The kid is only 23 years old.
Some more level headed baseball pundits say with improved plate discipline and maybe with a slight power increase he can become a better than league average hitter. A Juan Peirre type when Juan Peirre used to have over 170-200 hits a year. These well wishers are usually called Yankees fans but even some outsiders have given credit where credit is due to the “Melk Man.”
I think his glove, arm and penchant for always being in the middle of big innings will make him a productive major leaguer for a long time. Either as a starting center fielder- a nice role player on a team of super stars or maybe as a useful 4th outfielder who can spot start at all 3 outfield positions down the line. One thing the nerd sites don’t take into account is how a player fits in on a certain team. Melky fits for the Yankees.
I watch the Yankees every day and I have never felt like Melky held the team back. He can be a quick out some times but his defense and intangibles always even it out for me. On a team of super star robots he is a nice change of pace. I used to watch Gary Sheffield refuse to try to take a pitch the other way, even with a runner on second and the defense practically daring him to do it. He was more interested in hitting a loud foul ball that could potentially kill a kid in the left field upper deck. Melky Cabrera has been good for the Yankees. In those close and late situations Melky seems to shine. I think I once saw him bunt some one over. What a concept.
Regardless of what has happened the past two years in the playoffs. To me the Yankees took a drastic organization turn in 2006. They went from a one dimensional team that bullies it’s opponents to one that can beat you in different ways in the year 2006.
In 2004 and 2005 the Yankees used to clobber Tampa Bay 14-6 and then lose a heart breaker 3-2 the next night. They were an annoying team to watch. It was feast or famine and you never knew what you were getting out of the offense. While they may have scored almost 900 runs in 04 and 05, if you watched day to day you saw a team that scored a lot of the their runs with big innings off bad middle relief.
Then Cano and Wang became sophomores in 2006. Melky came up and provided some excitement and ended up coming in second in the AL in outfield assists. When the five game Boston massacre happened, Melky and Cano were in the middle of almost every big inning that weekend, smiling with each hit. I remember thinking to myself, since when have the Yankees smiled? Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson certainly didn’t smile. And while I understand smiling doesn’t equal winning, as a fan, you could just sense that the youth of this team was energising the rest of the team. Like that movie “Little Big Leagues.”
Some people say 2007 is when Brian Cashman’s youth movement took effect over the team. We got our first glimpse of Hughes, Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in 2007 and Shelley Duncan hit a bunch of home runs and slapped five with a bunch of people in 2007. But it was 2006 when the youth movement really started. And Melky was one of the three founding fathers along with Wang and Cano. This was not the George Steinbrenner, superstar, Yankees your father knew.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I do need to clarify that when given the opportunity I will always take a Gary Sheffield over a Melky Cabrera but the point I’m trying to make is that when Jason Giambi is clogging a roster spot and Hideki Matsui and A Rod are both guaranteed 100 RBI’s do you need an aging and angry Gary Sheffield at that point? It’s good to have a little balance to your line up.
Despite some of The “Melk Man’s” limitations, like his low line drive numbers, I think compared to his best friend Robinson Cano, Melky is the one who has the most room for growth. He doesn’t seem like he has filled out into his body yet and he is even younger than Cano. I know Melky has the speed to steal bases but he hasn’t figured out when to do it. He has started off hitting well this season. I would like to think this is the beginning of consistency for him.
It’s also worth noting that another small and scrappy center fielder came up from the Yankees farm system the last few years. In 2004 a guy got everyone excited for his potential with some nice defensive plays. His name was Bubba Crosby. He even hit a walk off home run once but you know what? He sucked at the plate. Yankees fans have been so starved for a youthful player we all over rated Bubba Crosby. Melky is everything Bubba should have been and what we thought Bubba was.
He may never have an all-star year but Melky is a more than serviceable major league center fielder. While he may improve drastically, he may also fall off the face of the earth. But one thing is for certain, what Melky is now is not what he will be two or three years from now. It’s safe to say he is going to improve. Maybe 15 points higher in average and an increased slugging percentage. Melky has similar numbers to Bernie Williams at the same age in the Major Leagues and Melky is allready assured to live in infamy because of his defensive gem on June 6th of 2006 where he robbed Manny Ramirez of a home run. If you havn’t seen this constantly replayed on YES your cable company obviously doesn’t carry YES.
Maybe I’m blinded by what Melky represents to the Yankees but I just think it’s a safe bet that he will be even better when he hits his prime years. At age 27 he will have five full years of experience. That has to count for something.
Or maybe I’m just fooling myself.
Melky Cabrera may never be much but while the majority of the Yankees roster has given up home runs to Manny Ramirez, Melky took one away. I hope it’s true what they say: The “Melk man” always knocks twice.