Last season the Kansas City Royals were able to put together arguably one of the best collective performances, both defensively and offensively, by an outfield committee that fans have seen in the organization’s history. Some may say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but the Royals had a different plan.
They needed some help on the pitching staff and that is what they got in the trade with the San Francisco Giants, sending center fielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants in exchange for left hander Jonathan Sanchez. The reason that Cabrera was an expendable asset is because of the confidence that the Royals have in their young center fielder Lorenzo Cain. Many regard him as being a defensive upgrade in center since his speed will allow him to have a great amount of range in the oversized outfield of Kauffman Stadium. He will not make the amazing diving catches that can be seen in highlights because he will take a page out of the Willie Wilson handbook and get to balls in the gaps that other outfielders simply cannot get to. His offense in the past has shown that contact will not be a problem but the power will need to continue to develop and get stronger which will come as experience sets in.
It is not arguable that the increase of speed will help him to fill the shoes of Cabrera in the outfield but the offensive production is where the shoes are a little bit bigger to fill.
In 2011, Cabrera set career highs in many categories including batting average (.305), hits (201), doubles (44), home runs (18), RBI (87), and stolen bases (20) to name a few. Now to say that Cain will be able to pencil in all of these statistics in his first full season in the Majors would be a bit hasty. While he could develop into this kind of player in the future, the present is what the organization and fans are about.
In his minor league career of seven season, Cain averages 7 home runs, 47 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and a .295 batting average. The stolen bases will come with the speed that Cain presents but the power, which has been low at best, is where Cain will need to improve to be a perennial player that the Royals need in center field. More power would equivocate to more run production and the more run production that he can bring to the table the less the pressure that hitters in the top half of the lineup will have to endure.
Manager Ned Yost has already revealed what his Opening Day lineup will look like and with history on his side he does not waiver much on the lineup throughout a season. So Cain will have the lessened pressure of the bottom half of the lineup which will allow him to continue to get on base, steal bases, and score runs in front of hits from the batter in the top of the lineup. With the pressure off of his back he can develop that power and in years to come be a huge run producer for this team.
The positive that can be brought from this is a little bit of Billy Beane and Oakland A’s style. The question is not whether Cain will have to fill the offensive hole that Cabrera leaves but can two or three players make up for the loss of offensive production. This is a task that can be accomplished with the improvements of the young “sophomores” on the team.
No doubt not having Cabrera in the lineup again this season could hurt this team a little since he left such big shoes to fill with his production in 2011. But will Lorenzo Cain be able to fill those shoes and become the resident citizen in center field will be a question on the future can answer.