Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lorenzo Cain's Upside

On Thursday, the Kansas City Star's Pete Grathoff caught up with Royals injury prone center field Lorenzo Cain. During the interview Grathoff asked Cain about his defensive efforts and how important it is that he stays healthy this season. You can read the whole article here and here's what Cain had to say about his defense:
"I made a lot of plays, got to a lot of balls, but that's what I work hard on in practice each and every day to perfect my craft. I feel like I did a great job of it last year, but like I said, that was last year. I've got to go out there and try and improve on last year."
 There weren't many things more enjoyable when watching the 2013 Royals than the night after night highlight reel display that was put on by #6. You know a guy's defense is top notch when he can compile 2.8 fWAR despite an OPS+ of 80. Unfortunately, the guy has been unable to stay healthy throughout a full season.

Thanks to Cain's defensive prowess, there's a good bet that he is going to net positive value for the Royals while healthy. Of course, if Cain could get back to even 2012 offensive form, he could be worth 3.5 to 4.5 fWAR for Kansas City. This would make him possibly the most valuable player on the team. Obviously, for the Royals to make the next step, they'll need at least a couple of players to post 4+ win seasons. I don't think many would predict Cain to be one of those guys, but we are simply talking about him combining his 2012 offense with his 2013 defense.

I've heard a few times during Royals broadcasts comparisons between Cain and former Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter. The comparisons often cite both as being late bloomers whose offense took time to develop, while their defense was always fantastic.

Hunter spent 7 seasons in the minors and didn't fully stick at the Major League level until he was a 24 year-old. However, at age 25, Hunter played in 148 games and posted a 102 OPS+. Cain also spent 7 seasons in the Minors, but unlike Hunter whose journey began as a 17 year old, Cain's Minor League career started when he was 19. This of course, puts Cain a couple years behind Hunter on the developmental curve.

Hunter's and Cain's first two full seasons were eerily similar. In Hunter's first 241 games he hit .266/.313/.391, while Cain in his first 225 games hit .266/.318/.380. However, it must be noted that Hunter's first 241 games came while he was 21-24 years old. Cain on the other hand was 24-27 during his first 225 games. By the time Hunter hit the age of 27, he had raised his career line to .266/.316/.456 and had posted three straight seasons of 3.5 bWAR or greater.

I'm not saying that Lorenzo Cain can't improve with the bat, because I think he can and he will in 2014. However, I don't see him turning in Torii Hunter any time soon. Hopefully for the Royals, Cain can simply get back to the guy he was offensively in 2012. But more importantly, hopefully he can stay on the field this season.

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