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Jake Cave is Primed to Break Out in 2020

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#1 Andrew Thares

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:07 AM

With a healthy Byron Buxton, the Minnesota Twins have unquestionably one of the best outfields in major league baseball. Add in super utility man Marwin Gonzalez last season, and the opportunities were limited for Jake Cave to show what he could do at the MLB level in 2019. While those same barriers exist for Cave in 2020, there are, this year, cracks in that armor that could give Cave the path to show how good of a player he is.Jake Cave burst onto the scene in May of 2018, when he belted a home run in his MLB debut. Since then, he has done an excellent job as the Minnesota Twins fourth outfielder, hitting for a .262/.329/.466 (.795) slash line, with a 111 wRC+ in 537 plate appearances across both seasons. Additionally, Cave has provided solid defense in the outfield, finishing with a catch probability added of 0 percent in 2018, and 2 percent in 2019. For reference, among outfielders with at least 50 opportunities in those seasons, Cave finished 74th out of 174 in 2018, and 52nd out of 184 in 2019.

It is clear that Jake Cave has been an average, to slightly above average, outfielder in his first two seasons in the majors. However, there are plenty of signs pointing towards Cave elevating his game to a higher level in 2020. The first factor that has Cave trending in the right direction is his age and experience. 2020 will be Cave’s age-27 season, which means he will be entering into his prime years starting this season. Factor that in with roughly a full season’s worth of MLB plate appearances under his belt, and Cave should have his feet under him.

In addition to entering his prime years, there are also statistical factors that
suggest that a Jake Cave breakout is on the horizon. One of the biggest improvements to his game that Jake Cave made from year one to year two, was his ability to recognize pitches. In 2018, Jake Cave struggled with this a bit, as he swung at 35.9 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which ranked in just the 22nd percentile among all MLB hitters with at least 300 plate appearances that season. Jump ahead to 2019, and Cave cut that rate down to a much more respectable 31.7 percent. At the same time, he also made a drastic improvement at swinging at pitches inside the strike zone, as his swing percentage on those pitches increased from 65.8 percent in 2018, up to 72.9 percent in 2019. This all helped Cave’s on-base percentage improve from a mere .313 in 2018, to a strong .351 mark in 2019.

More great signs that point toward further success for Jake Cave are his Statcast metrics. Per Baseball Savant, Jake Cave collected an expected wOBA (xwOBA) of .360 in 2019. This ranked 55th out of the 360 MLB hitters who had at least 200 plate appearances last season. Among Twins players, Cave had the sixth highest xwOBA, and finished higher than each of the other outfielders on the team. A big part of that is due to his ability to hit the ball hard. Last season, Cave finished with an average exit velocity of 90.5 MPH and a hard-hit rate (batted ball events at or above 95 MPH) of 43.8 percent. Those two numbers finished in the 82nd and 84th percentiles, respectively, among all MLB hitters with at least 50 batted ball events in 2019.

With as hard as Jake Cave hits the ball, it is easy to wonder why his power numbers aren’t better than they are, and why they dipped slightly in 2019. Perhaps the best explanation for this is the slight drop in average launch angle he had from 10.0 degrees in 2018, down to 7.4 degrees in 2019. If he can make a slight adjustment with his swing to get that number up to a more optimal number of roughly 12 degrees or higher, without seeing a dip in his hard-hit rate, we could his a huge increase in his power numbers, similar to what happened to Max Kepler in 2019.

While most Twins fans might not realize it, Jake Cave is already more than good enough to be a full-time starting outfielder at the major league level. If he is able to take the leap forward in 2020 that he is more than capable of, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cave starts getting some playing time over Eddie Rosario later in the season, especially in games where either Jake Odorizzi or Michael Pineda (both heavy flyball pitchers) are starting, and the effects of Jake Cave being a far better defensive outfielder than Eddie Rosario are more pronounced.

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#2 M&MFTW

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:15 AM

I'd honestly platoon him and Rosario, at least until Rosario improves (if he still can)

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#3 jorgenswest

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:29 AM

One hidden and cautionary note about Jake Cave and his data from last year. His set of pitchers faced were among the weakest in baseball last year. As a group the pitchers he faced (weighted by PA) gave up an OPS of against .810. Cave’s OPS of .805 was below the average hitter facing those pitchers.

In comparison Rosario’s group of pitchers gave up an aggregate .774 OPS against to the opposing hitters and Rosario was significantly better than average at .800.

I would have been selling high on Cave this winter.
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#4 Nine of twelve

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:36 AM

 

I'd honestly platoon him and Rosario, at least until Rosario improves (if he still can)

There's not much to be gained from that since they both bat left. And I think Rosario is a better player than Cave. Ideally we should have four outfielders, two batting from each side. Trading one of the three lefties for an equivalent right-handed or switch-hitting outfielder would be to our advantage. Any right-handed-heavy teams out there?

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#5 jorgenswest

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:46 AM

There's not much to be gained from that since they both bat left. And I think Rosario is a better player than Cave. Ideally we should have four outfielders, two batting from each side. Trading one of the three lefties for an equivalent right-handed or switch-hitting outfielder would be to our advantage. Any right-handed-heavy teams out there?


Marwin Gonzalez is essentially a corner OF as long as Sano and Donaldson are healthy. He is no longer a middle infield option short of emergency use. He also switch hits giving the ideal four OF grouping.

That makes Cave is the 5th outfielder. If he does step forward the Twins and Marwin declines the Twins will have a decision to make about cutting loose that contract.
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#6 ashbury

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:50 AM

I would have been selling high on Cave

Can't help thinking the Yankees already accomplished this feat. :)

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#7 Seth Stohs

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:56 AM

Twins fans WAY under-value Eddie Rosario...

Jake Cave is a nice player, no doubt. His approach at the plate is a little better than Rosario's. His defense is OK in left. But Rosario's a better player. Of course, $8 million versus $600,000 is the bigger thing that makes the comparison closer. 

 

For Cave it'll again be about opportunity. 

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#8 Doctor Gast

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 11:57 AM

I agree, Cave is overlooked a lot & hope he does breakout. He`s definitely deserves to start on many ML teams. It must be hard on him when a lot Twins fans are alwayscomplaining about prospects not given a chance. They aren`t because of the talent ahead of them


#9 DocBauer

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 12:03 PM

Absolutely Rosario is the better player, especially at 100%. But I do like Cave and think he is a nice player. While i don't believe, right now anyway, he has major trade value, I think there are a lot of teams with far less talent in the OF than the Twins that would like to have him.

My only problem with Cave is defense. I see him make routine plays and some really nice ones. And then he will inexplicably take a horrible angle or dive for a ball 3 foot out of his reach. If he could just refine his defense a bit more I think his value ratchets up another notch or two.
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#10 M&MFTW

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 12:12 PM

 

Absolutely Rosario is the better player, especially at 100%. But I do like Cave and think he is a nice player. While i don't believe, right now anyway, he has major trade value, I think there are a lot of teams with far less talent in the OF than the Twins that would like to have him.

My only problem with Cave is defense. I see him make routine plays and some really nice ones. And then he will inexplicably take a horrible angle or dive for a ball 3 foot out of his reach. If he could just refine his defense a bit more I think his value ratchets up another notch or two.

Eddie Rosario was worse defensively. Yeah, Cave made a few bonehead plays in the OF but Rosario was just worse all around defensively. Sure, he threw out Devers in Boston but he might not have had too if he made other, easier plays. (I don't remember that game in detail, i'm unaware if he could have)


#11 M&MFTW

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 12:14 PM

 

 

There's not much to be gained from that since they both bat left. And I think Rosario is a better player than Cave. Ideally we should have four outfielders, two batting from each side. Trading one of the three lefties for an equivalent right-handed or switch-hitting outfielder would be to our advantage. Any right-handed-heavy teams out there?

Cave hits righties better than Rosario. 119 wRC+ vs 111 wRC+ career wise plus Cave has better defense.

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#12 jorgenswest

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 01:02 PM

Can't help thinking the Yankees already accomplished this feat. :)

I hate to lose Luis Gil but two years later he is still a long way from the majors with a walk rate of 12% last year and only 13 innings of hi A going into his age 22 season. The options clock has started. The Yankees may harness the upside in that arm before options run out but I would bet on Cave ending his career with more career WAR than Gil.

I have to believe Cave’s two years of solid play has to give him more value today and it would be possible to trade him for a pitcher similar to the one Gil was two years ago. A 19 year old with 46 walks in 65 innings and a history of arm trouble and a 100+ fastball.
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#13 stringer bell

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 01:27 PM

Jake Cave has had a nice year plus for the Twins. He has a total of 537 plate appearances, so basically full-time play for a year. Last year, he picked up his OBP and played the outfield corners much more frequently than center. in 2018, Cave was basically a regular from the point he was recalled and in 2019, Cave spent quite a bit of time on the bench until Buxton was injured and basically lost for the rest of the season.

 

My problems with Cave are 1) it is my impression that he does far better when starting consistently, rather than getting a start or two per week. I don't have any stats to support this, but my memory is that he was unproductive until he get his shot at regular playing time in 2019. 2) Cave is redundant. He is a corner outfielder who hit left handed, not a superior defender and doesn't offer explosive speed. I really can't see that would favor Cave over Kepler or Rosario. 

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#14 mikelink45

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 01:31 PM

A nice 4th or 5th OF is a nice bonus, but they are like the second string QB.They always look good until they are forced to start and face all the pitchers and all the situations.With our prospects lining up I would look for a nice trade with Cave going to a team in need - like the Marlins.But I keep Eddie until Kiriloff takes over for him (and then we will complain that Kiriloff is not a good fielder).  

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#15 puckstopper1

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 01:47 PM

Cave has to make the 26 man roster first, IMO.

 

Assuming the Twins keep 13 pitchers, and assuming everyone is healthy, then the final 3 roster spots likely come down to Gonzales, Cave, Adrianza and Astudillo.

 

If the Twins decide to keep Astudillo because he can also catch, that reduces Cave's odds of making the team even more.

 

I think Cave is a good ballplayer, but in all honesty I hope he does not get a ton of playing time this season as it means that Rosario, Buxton, Kepler (and to some extents Cruz) are all healthy and playing well.

 

That would be the ideal situation for the Twins this season.

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#16 jud6312

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 02:14 PM

 

Cave has to make the 26 man roster first, IMO.

 

Assuming the Twins keep 13 pitchers, and assuming everyone is healthy, then the final 3 roster spots likely come down to Gonzales, Cave, Adrianza and Astudillo.

 

If the Twins decide to keep Astudillo because he can also catch, that reduces Cave's odds of making the team even more.

 

I think Cave is a good ballplayer, but in all honesty I hope he does not get a ton of playing time this season as it means that Rosario, Buxton, Kepler (and to some extents Cruz) are all healthy and playing well.

 

That would be the ideal situation for the Twins this season.

 

Adrianza and Gonzalez are absolutely making the team, barring injury or if Marwin's 2017 causes a locker room rift.

 

If they go 13 and 13, it's coming down to Cave and Turtle for the last spot. Although it shouldn't because Cave is absolutely the better player of the two.

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#17 Andrew Thares

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 02:34 PM

 

Twins fans WAY under-value Eddie Rosario...

Jake Cave is a nice player, no doubt. His approach at the plate is a little better than Rosario's. His defense is OK in left. But Rosario's a better player. Of course, $8 million versus $600,000 is the bigger thing that makes the comparison closer. 

 

For Cave it'll again be about opportunity. 

How do Twins fans Way under-value Eddie Rosario?

 

He has a career 105 wRC+, which is okay but not great, and now that Eddie's defense has completely fallen off a cliff he just isn't that good. I hope he can prove me wrong, but right now, Rosario is a below average MLB outfielder.

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#18 jorgenswest

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 02:37 PM

Adrianza and Gonzalez are absolutely making the team, barring injury or if Marwin's 2017 causes a locker room rift.

If they go 13 and 13, it's coming down to Cave and Turtle for the last spot. Although it shouldn't because Cave is absolutely the better player of the two.


I am not so sure. Astudillo faced a much more difficult set of pitchers the last two years. His DRC+ was 95 compared to Cave’s 89. The previous year it was 125 to 92.

Why DRC+ from BP? It correlates better to future performance.

Astudillo doesn’t need to be a better hitter than Cave to be more valuable on the roster with his positional flexibility. I also think there are match ups against a high swing and miss reliever where pinch hitting Astudillo with runners on base is an asset.

In reality there will be injuries and both will have plenty of opportunity in the 25 man.
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#19 jud6312

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 03:10 PM

 

I am not so sure. Astudillo faced a much more difficult set of pitchers the last two years. His DRC+ was 95 compared to Cave’s 89. The previous year it was 125 to 92.

Why DRC+ from BP? It correlates better to future performance.

Astudillo doesn’t need to be a better hitter than Cave to be more valuable on the roster with his positional flexibility. I also think there are match ups against a high swing and miss reliever where pinch hitting Astudillo with runners on base is an asset.

In reality there will be injuries and both will have plenty of opportunity in the 25 man.

 

The problem with his "flexibility" is that he's not actually good at any position. He can simply occupy space in an area.

 

I'm not sure how many more times I can take watching him flare a soft liner right at someone because he couldn't lay off of an ankle-high heater.


#20 LA VIkes Fan

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 03:25 PM

What it should really come down to is a decision between Gonzalez and Astudillo. Cave is superior to both of them offensively and defensively, at least in the OF. The Twins should start with Gonzalez but he should be on a short leash given the decline last year and his age. Astudillo is fun but he's not a Major League player on a good team. He doesn't hit well enough with a very low OPS and no power, and his defense is sub par all around the diamond. Rooker, Larnach or Kiriloff should replace Gonzalez at mid-seadon if he continues to decline. Astudillo is the classic 3rd Catcher at AAA available for injury recall duty. Nothing more.
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