Robinson Cano finally gets it, and now he is assaulting opposing pitchers.
The immensely talented second baseman has been beset by immaturity and lackadaisical play at times in the past, but if his torrid start is any indication, those days are over.
Hitting a scalding .407 with eight homers and 17 RBI, Cano leads the AL batting race by a mile, ranks second in the league in home runs, and is tied for fifth in RBI. Although he receives acclaim for his potent bat, often overlooked is his defensive acumen.
Thursday night in Baltimore, Cano made a spectacular play to rob Nolan Reimold in the third inning of a clear base hit up the middle by ranging far to his right to secure the sharp grounder and with his momentum carrying him further away from first base, threw out the struggling outfielder on a fly. The arm strength he displayed on that play, and continues to exhibit on a routine basis, is unrivaled at his position.
You would be hard pressed to find another second baseman in baseball capable of making the same play, especially without at least bouncing the throw. Sadly, the play will be overshadowed by Cano’s exceptional night with the bat (3-4 with two homers, a double, and three runs), but it was the highlight of the night.
As a vocal critic of Cano in the past , I assure you that this is not a puff piece. Cano has had limitations in years gone by, which I have been quick to indicate, that have hindered him from reaching his potential.
He’s always been a free-swinger and that’s never going to be completely reigned in. However, Cano is becoming more disciplined at the plate as is evidenced by the fact that he’s on pace to break his career-high walk total. He’s drawn six free passes in 81 at bats which puts him on pace to draw close to 50 walks over the full season. His previous career-high is 39 in 2007.
With regard to his maturity level, Cano was frequently seen clowning around with his inseparable pal Melky Cabrera in recent years. Since Cabrera was shipped out of town, Cano is more about business. Meanwhile, Cabrera isn’t exactly raking in Atlanta as the Braves have discovered the hard way that he is merely a fourth outfielder.
New responsibility delegated to Cano also has expedited his growth. He is now the unquestioned fifth hitter in the batting order.
The Yankees have attempted to slot Cano into the fifth spot in the lineup before, though he’s never been able to justify sticking there because of his poor situational hitting. Jorge Posada is certainly worthy of protecting Alex Rodriguez but even with Posada’s excellent start, Cano is entrenched in the five hole.
In 2009, Cano hit a feeble .207 with runners in scoring position. Thus far, albeit in a small sample size of 20 at bats, Cano is showing marked improvement batting an even .300.
Cano cites the work he does with hitting coach Kevin Long in the cages about as much as he says hello. His performance corroborates the time he has committed and it may be a stretch to say he has been as diligent and dedicated previously.
Larry Bowa, Yankees’ third base coach for two seasons under Joe Torre, was vital to Cano’s development because he constantly demanded nothing short of the Dominican’s best. Bowa’s boisterous and fiery personality kept Cano in line so it is no coincidence that the second baseman had by far his worst year in the majors in 2008 (.274, 14 homers, 72 RBI, .305 OBP) the year his mentor defected to Los Angeles with Torre.
Bowa’s absence left a void in Cano’s professional life. Cano lacked guidance, wasn’t necessarily interested in becoming a dominant player, and didn’t put in the effort required to excel.
At 27, Cano is growing up and his newfound work ethic is a testament to that.
Rededicated and entering his prime, there’s reason to believe Cano has arrived as not only an elite player at his position, but as a bonafide MLB star.