Over the next few weeks we'll be dissecting the top ten prospects in many different tools'…
Scouting Yankees Prospect #16: Jake Cave
Name: Jake Cave
DOB: December 4, 1992
A knee injury in his very first professional game with the Gulf Coast League caused him to miss not only the remainder of the season but the two Instructional League camps this offseason as well, and he had to settle for for his own personal Instructs camp for his first extended exposure to the pro level.
"I think it's going great," Cave said recently. "I'm trying to take what happened with the knee as a positive. I think it helped me a little bit because I got to go down there [to the minor league complex] and work one on one with some of the hitting guys. I was one of the only guys down there.
"I've gotten to put on weight too because I was in the weight room a lot since I couldn't run much. I've put on some good weight that I've been trying to put on for a while.
"I feel like the ball is popping off of the bat really well and I'm feeling comfortable at the plate. I think I've improved a lot. I think [the injury] could have been a good thing."
A talented left-handed pitcher in high school too, one who could hit the mid-90s on the radar gun, the Yankees drafted the toolsy lefty as an outfielder.
"Yeah we're looking forward to seeing him play," Yankees senior vice president of scouting and player development Mark Newman said. "Obviously we like him and we like his bat. He'll get a lot of ABs. We missed having him in the [Dominican Instructs]. He's a get-after-it guy, he's a baseball player. He was rehabbing his knee here and getting stronger. I'm excited to see him."
Few have been able to see Cave play because of his injury but the ones who have see some similarities between he and former first round pick Slade Heathcott, and they can't help but be excited about his long-term potential.
"I don't know, they're both their own kind of prospect but there are a few similarities between them," Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told PinstripesPlus.com on draft day. "More than anything it's the way they play the game, because they both play ultra-hard.
"I think Jake has a chance to be a good hitter, and we'll see how the power comes, but he's a gamer. He gets after it, works hard, gets dirty, and really wants it."
His all-out hustle style of plate translates very well behind the scenes too and it has aided him in bouncing back from the knee injury last August.
"I'm a little bit surprised because I hadn't seen a ball off of the bat in a long time," he said of getting back to shagging down fly balls. "I thought that was going to be a struggle. Just jumping back into stuff that's been my strongest point I think.
"I've worked out there and I like that, fielding out there. I take that seriously. When we go out there to take our BP on the field – obviously you love hitting – but [when I'm in the field] I take that ball to the centerfield wall. I love it.
"When you do something wrong the coaches let you know. I want to hit but when it's time to go out there and take fly balls, you don't get excited about that [normally] but I have."
It is his unrivaled love of the game and willingness to make any play necessary that stands out even more than the tools he possesses, and it's why so many prospect analysts believe he has what it takes to harness his entire game into viable game production.
"Man it's awesome, I can't even explain it," Cave said of the impending season. "It's cool going out there everyday and just playing baseball. That's my job. That's what I get to do everyday.
"This is going to be my first season that I can say that I'm on a team and not just out there training. I'm going to be on a team and have something to compete for, to win some games – I can't even explain it. I feel like it's going by really slow because I want [the season] to be here."
While just how productive a player he will be remains to be seen, Cave himself enters what is essentially his debut season extremely confident and ready to go.
"I feel like I'm going to have a really good season," Cave opined. "I can't go out there and say that I'm not. You have to have it in your head that you're going to be good.
"Now that I'm playing professional baseball and everybody's good – all of my teammates are good and everybody I'll be playing against will be good, and I'm going to see a lot of great pitching – I just feel like that's going to help my game even more. Playing against better people will bring out the best in me. I'm excited."
Batting and Power. Nearly all scouts are convinced Cave has the chance to be a special hitter. Employing a short, compact stroke, showing advanced patience and pitch recognition, and an impressive balance between being aggressive and a willingness to wait on his pitch, he has all the makings of being a good hitter for average. He is naturally strong and his good bat speed gives him some power. He doesn't project to be a plus home run hitter but he might be able to develop average to above average power as he continues to get stronger and fill out his athletic frame.
Base Running and Speed. Cave is also naturally quick but he is quite raw in the stealing bases department. He could steal quite a few bases long-term, but he needs to learn the nuances of the running game and read pitchers' moves better to be an impact base stealer. He could have his short-term hiccups in the running game until then.
Defense. He is able to play all three outfield positions quite well. He has the kind of plus arm strength and overall instincts that would make him suitable to play a great right field, but while he doesn't project to be an elite defender in centerfield he does have the ability to man that position well too. He gives the Yankees defensive options.
Projection. Even though he has yet to play his first professional season, with his good speed, great arm strength, hitting ability, and makeup that is off the charts, Cave already safely projects to be a future big league reserve outfield at minimum. The biggest question mark going forward will be just how far his power eventually develops. His bat would play better in centerfield from a profile standpoint and he projects to be a starting big league player there offensively, but should he slide over to one of the corner outfield spots long-term the power will have to come around significantly more.
ETA. N/A. Where the Yankees play him defensively will determine where he begins his professional career. He should start the year in Extended Spring Training and later break camp with one of the short-season leagues, most likely in the Gulf Coast League if he remains in centerfield short-term but it will be hard to keep his kind of great energy away from Staten Island.
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