Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Not A Prospect Yet (But Worth Watching): Jake Cave

(Courtesy of Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images)

I missed it by a day in terms of having it be a nice even 2 weeks out, but let this be the official announcement that AB4AR Prospect Week 2014 will be taking place 2 weeks from now starting on Monday, January 27th.  Obviously that week will consist of the unveiling of the 3rd annual AB4AR Top 30 Prospects list, along with a look at the guys who are off the list after last year's edition and the guys who just missed making this year's edition.

As the lead in to Prospect Week I'd like to revisit a post series that was actually part of Prospect Week 2013, profiling players who are making some waves in the Minor Leagues and working their way into legitimate prospect contention but aren't quite there yet.  You might remember last year's group of these players included Matt Tracy, Corey Black, Adonis Garcia, and Daniel Camarena.  The first of this year's crop is Jake Cave, a 2011 draft pick who just finished his first year of full-season ball.

Cave is a 21-year-old lefty hitting and throwing outfielder.  The Yankees took him in the 6th round pick of the 2011 MLB Draft as a HS senior from Hampton, Virginia, and eventually signed him to an $825,000 signing bonus, the 2nd biggest bonus they handed out to that year's draft class.  He was a legitimate prospect as both a pitcher and an OFer in high school, but the Yankees took him with just the outfield in mind and with good reason.  Cave was named the top player in the wood bat Coastal Plains League in 2011 despite being a HS senior playing against mostly college players.

Cave measures at 6'0"/180 pounds and possesses more than 1 above-average tool.  His greatest strengths are his hit tool at the plate and his arm in the field, although some scouts believe he can develop more power over time as his swing mechanics are refined.  He generates good loft on the ball and has shown the ability to hit to all fields, but his swing is still a little long right now (not uncommon for a HS hitter with only 1 year of experience) and that will need to be ironed out to maximize his power potential.  In the field he's athletic enough to play center right now, though it's unknown if he'll stick there long term.  Cave makes all of his tools look better by being one of those "hard-nosed", "grinder" type players that coaches love.

The only thing that's really keeping Cave off the 25-30 range of this year's AB4AR Top 30 is the major injury he suffered that cost him his 2012 season.  After signing in 2011, Cave broke his kneecap in a home plate collision in his first GCL game and missed the remainder of the season.  He re-injured the knee in ExST in 2012 and spent that entire year rehabbing before returning to the field in 2013.

When he did, Cave showed why some scouts are so high on him.  Despite missing a year of short season development, the Yankees assigned him to Low-A Charleston and Cave more than held his own against that level of competition.  In 520 PA over 115 games, he hit .282/.347/.401 with a 7.7% BB rate, 21.2% K rate, 37 2B, 6 3B, 2 HR, 69 R scored, 31 RBI, and 18 SB (in 27 attempts).  Not only did he stay healthy, he showed no ill effects of missing the 2012 season and showcased the plus hit and defensive tools that got him noticed in the first place.

Looking forward to the 2014 season, I anticipate the Yankees will bump Cave up to High-A Tampa to replace Ben Gamel in center field and continue to evaluate his long-term potential to stick at the position.  They'll be looking for him to improve his approach at the plate and at least maintain his BB rate, and also tighten up his swing mechanics to unlock more of his power.  If Cave can do those things and continue to show that he's not prone to injuries, he should find himself on many more top prospects lists in 2014-2015.

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