In becoming the first New York Yankee player (and 15th overall) since 1994 to hit for the cycle, Melky Cabrera was a big reason why the Yankees avoided a sweep this weekend at the hands of the Chicago White Sox.
Since Brett Gardner went down last week with a broken thumb, the Melk Man has contributed on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. Cabrera has produced a line of .357/.438/.750/1.188 OPS in the eight games since Gardner’s injury, with three doubles, a triple, two homers, four walks and five RBI’s.
Melky this season is at .292/.355/.463/.819 OPS, all considerably higher than his career numbers coming into the season. His 10 HR’s are two more than his career high and his 40 RBI are on pace to match his career high of 73.
He has also continued to provide fine defensive work, too.
It is funny how things work sometimes. Gardner won the job out of spring training, and Melky had to make the team as he was out of options, plus he only has about 700 plate appearances above High A.
Melky has learned the game at the major league level without the proper development progression. But Melky is progressing now pretty well.
After losing the spring center field battle, Melky kept working hard, didn’t complain and with Gardner’s early inconsistency, Cabrera got a second (and third, fourth and final chance because he is out of options) and began to perform.
The game of baseball is about performance and unless you are a fully established major leaguer with a track record of success, you will not get a long term shot in New York.
Just ask Ian Kennedy, Shelley Duncan, Chase Wright, Ross Ohlendorf or any other young player who has entered Bronxville station, but after some struggles was sent on the next train out.
Lucky for Robinson Cano that he had some initial success in 2005, or he would have been out of town during the previous off season. Where are those anti-Cano guys now?
In the past I have pointed out that Dustin Pedroia was largely unsuccessful when he first started in the majors, but the Red Sox continued to let him play and he became ROY and an MVP. Cano went through a mediocre year in 2008 and many people wanted the 25-year-old run out of town, and he could take his even younger buddy Melky with him.
The C and C boys (Cabrera and Cano) needed to have time to perform. When talented younger players like Cabrera and Cano get adequate time, their production usually improves. It will not improve every year (even Babe Ruth hit fewer than 60 homers in every season after 1927, and his 1925 season was a huge decline off his career numbers).
What most fans don’t realize or have the patience for is that players like Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Cabrera and Cano need time to develop. Where do the New York fans get the arrogance to think these young players need to have HOF type seasons every year from their rookie campaign on?
There are very few Albert Pujols, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio type positional players who dominate from the outset of a career.
Best buddies Cabrera and Cano each had an awakening last season. Cabrera was given the centerfield job, did not hit up to the expectations of Yankee management (and those great, very patient Yankee fans!) and was shipped down to Triple A Scranton. He performed well there and was brought back up in September.
It’s tough being 24 years of age, out of options already and having most of the Yankee fan base hating your guts because you are not the second coming of Bernie Williams.
If left alone, however, Cabrera could produce 20 homers and 80+ RBI’s per season.
However, Cabrera this season is playing the way everyone wants him to play and he has wrested the CF job away from the struggling Gardner.
Cano also had his problems last year and his own affirmation. A lack of production at the plate, not a high enough OBP, and a perceived lack of hustle in the field all led to those great Yankee fans calling for his ouster. “He doesn’t take enough pitches; He is so lackadaisical in the field; He doesn’t have Larry Bowa around to kick him in the butt,” is what we heard from fans and media alike.
Joe Girardi couldn’t get through to Cano until he benched Robinson late in the 2008 season.
Since that benching, Cano has been a different player. He was perceived to hit well after the benching, he definitely hustled in the field, had a terrific Winter League season, and had began this year with a big bat, carrying the Yankees (and the hurt A-Rod and cold Mark Teixeira) early on.
Interestingly, except for the terrible April last year, Cano was pretty consistent all year long in 2008.
I guess perception is greater than reality! But in the off season Cano did work hard on his conditioning, and worked extensively with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. He also began to be more selective at the plate, actually taking pitches out of the zone (and taking some bad strikes), while swing at good strikes. Not necessarily good pitchers strikes, but good strikes to hit.
Cano is also having a Gold Glove caliber season at second base, making unbelievable plays all year. His signature play of ranging far up the middle, fielding the ball on the run and then flipping the ball across his body to Teixeira at first has performed a half dozen times already. Cano turns the best double play pivot in baseball and definitely has the best throwing arm of any second baseman.
In 1961 the Yankees had the M & M boys in Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Now the Yankees have the C and C boys in Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano.
It is good to see the C and C boys back playing exciting baseball. Each has had their moments of glory with Melky having walk off homers and games like yesterday.
It is way too early to predict what Cabrera and Cano can accomplish. One could only hope they carry on the tradition of Yankee best friends helping to lead the way to World Series titles like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada did.
But Yankee fans will take what they have right now, two players who have appeared to become hard workers, looking to improve their games and taking nothing for granted.
Both have seemed to appease the sabermetricians, who always wanted both guys to take more pitches and draw more walks. Each player is on pace this season to equal or succeed their 162 game walk totals. This is an improvement in patience, although I want to point out that many times each player swings early in the count with much success, like yesterday’s second inning three-run homer by Melky.
Let’s not jump the C and C Hall of Fame bandwagon yet, and Yankee fans should not give up on Gardner yet, either. Right before he broke his thumb, Gardner was coming into his own as the type of player the Yankee organization envisioned. All three players can do good things on a baseball field to help the Yankees win games.
Yankee fans just have to realize that it won’t be every time in every game.