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Could Jake Cave Bite into Eddie Rosario’s Playing Time (This Year and Beyond)?

Patrick Wozniak



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blog-0877534001566718247.jpgWith injuries to Byron Buxton and the more recent hamstring injury to Eddie Rosario, Jake Cave has had an extended opportunity with the Minnesota Twins and has made the most of it. After hitting two home runs in the opener against the Detroit Tigers he came back in Saturday's game and hit another dinger, with a double to boot. Buxton is off to a short rehab assignment in Cedar Rapids but he could rejoin the big league club as soon as Tuesday in Chicago. Rosario’s injury is listed as day-to-day but hamstring injuries are tricky, so he could potentially land on the 10-day IL. Either way, with the way Cave has played of late the Twins will have an interesting decision to make when Rosario returns.


Cave was a pleasant surprise for the Minnesota in 2018, as he hit .265/.313/.473 with a wRC+ of 108 and was good for 1.3 bWAR in just 91 games. He filled in for Buxton during Buxton’s disastrous and injury-riddle 2018, spending a lot of time in center field, where he played decently but showed that he was definitely better suited for the corners. Flash forward to 2019 and Cave was slated to be the Twins fourth outfielder, but he struggled out of the gate slashing just .176/.299/.243 for a 52 wRC+ in the first half and Cave was sent down to AAA to figure things out.


And boy did he figure it out in Rochester. Cave hit the cover off the ball (.352/.393/.592) and since returning to the Twins, Cave hasn’t cooled a bit. Since the All-Star break, Cave has hit an unreal .417/.482/.708 for a 209 wRC+. With his second-half surge, Cave’s numbers on the year are now looking quite good as well. Cave has hit .280/.381/.464 on the year for a 125 wRC+. His on-base percentage has risen from .313 in 2018 to a very good .381 in his second season. In watching Cave, he seems to be taking much better at-bats of late, showing an ability to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone. While Cave will probably never have an elite walk rate, he has shown significant improvement in this area, going from a 5.8% walk rate in 2018 to 8.4% in 2019. He is getting better pitches to hit and hitting them hard, with a 52.6% hard hit percentage.


Rosario on the other hand, hadn’t looked particularly good at the plate prior to his injury. Rosario has just a 3.9% walk rate on the year and lately, even when getting into a hitter’s count, he’s been liable to put a weak swing on a pitch outside of the strike zone. On the year he has hit .282/.307/.515 for a wRC+ of 107, which is certainly respectable but not as good as Cave. Rosario started the year off with 11 home runs by the end of April but has hit just 10 in the last three months. In the second half, Rosario’s walk rate is down to an almost non-existent 2.9% with just a 93 wRC+.


Although Rosario and Cave have similar skill sets (hit left-handed, play aggressively, and are streaky), Cave’s ability to reach base gives him a definite advantage over Rosario. Beyond that, Cave has clearly been the hotter hitter of late and it would be really hard to take his bat out of the lineup at such a critical juncture of the season. Although Cave has not looked good defensively in center field, he is probably a better overall outfielder than Rosario. MLB Statcast measures Rosario at a -2.0 jump vs. average with 31.5 feet covered. Cave on the other hand is better than average with a 0.8 jump and 34.5 feet. Both Rosario and Cave are liable to make a few boneheaded mistakes in the field, but Cave seems more athletic overall and better able to make difficult catches.


Of course, Rosario has the longer track record as a major leaguer, is a fan-favorite, and has had his share of big moments in the 2019 season. Cave has slightly better career numbers but has only played 141 games in parts of two seasons. Cave also has a really high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) at .400 for the season, but he has always carried a very high BABIP in both the minors and the majors (though not quite that extreme). Part of this may be due to Cave’s ability to hit the ball hard to all fields, allowing him to beat the shift. Cave’s ability to hit the ball hard brings a lot of swing and miss as well. He is currently striking out in 31.1% of his plate appearances, so there is definitely room for improvement.


Now entering the final stretch of the season and caught in a tight race with Cleveland, it will be imperative for the Twins to run out the players who give them the best chance to win. We have already seen this happen with Luis Arraez taking the second base gig from Jonathan Schoop. The Twins greatest strength may be their overall depth. With players who are ineffective due to injury or other factors, such as Rosario and C.J. Cron, the Twins would be amiss not to take advantage of the depth they have and put their best nine out on the field.


It remains to be seen how much playing time Cave will take from Eddie Rosario this season, but Cave’s success may make Rosario more expendable in the offseason. Minnesota could dangle Rosario as part of a package to obtain starting pitching, knowing that Cave at the very least gives the team a stop-gap in left. The Twins farm system is loaded with corner outfield types who are close to big league ready in Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Brent Rooker and the MLB team will still have Marwin Gonzalez under contract in 2020. Rosario has been a valuable player for the Twins, but he seems unlikely to improve upon what he already is. With little to no plate discipline and decreasing speed with age, the Twins may be better off moving on from Rosario and getting something in return for him while they still can (Rosario becomes a free-agent in 2022). In the meantime, whether a long-term solution or not, Jake Cave has presented the Twins with a welcome problem.



Recommended Comments

The Twins have a problem in the outfield. Who to extend and for how much.


Rosario IS an atractive trade chip. At his best. You don't want to take the chance that he will flop in a season or two, and yet you have to figure that he will demand more than you might be willing to pay in a multi-year contract.


Part of that issue is that you have Kiriloff and Larnach in the wings, not to mention Rooker and Haley and any number of other names.


The Twins signed Polanco (making Gordon a luxury) and Kepler (so he is secure, or could be traded a la Span in the near future).


Just like the twins approaching the offseason and wondering what it would take to resign Gibson, Odorizzi and Pineda, they also need to decide if they can find suitable pitchers for less money and longer control (they can, I'm sure).


So it will be interesting to see where the Twins go this off-season with Rosario, Buxton and Sano, not to mention Berrios. They can easily just do arbitration for anotehr season and hope that none of them tank and are still suitable trade chips come the summer or next off-sesaon. Or they can extend and, thus, push aside prospects that they could've trded to upgrde the rotation and bullpen in the pennant drive this season.


Is Cave longterm> Not necessarily. But he could make a good consideration for the job if the Twins do table Rosario for the next month. But with Buxton back, the Twins will still need to find regular playing time for Arraez, Gonzalez and Cave. (Hey, felt the Twins needed to dangle Schoop at the trade deadline, but the front office still seemed unsure about Arraez - at least they can let Schoop walk as they have Gordon or Arraez as possibilities for fulltime in 2020).


But the Twins do have an abundance of riches in the outfield. But we still have to be sold that Buxton is a superstar possibility or just anotehr solid otufielder, and that Rosario is the real deal for the longterm.


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The Twins seem to have major league outfield talent at all levels of the minor's currently. Next spring/early summer could see Larnach, Kiriloff, Rooker and Raley getting major league time in the outfield/firstbase/DH.


I don't think Buxton will ever play more than 135/140 games a year without getting injured. Kepler can cover center when needed the next 2 years while one of the centerfield talents works their way up.


That said, I don't see Cave back next year. He was good in 2018 and great the last couple of weeks but they need roster space and playing time for the outfield prospects at Triple and Double A. Gonzalez can be the 4th until someone demands roster space.


I can't see Rosario getting traded before winter of 2020/21 at the earliest. Someone would have to overwhelm them.

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I think just about every manager in the majors would like to have four starting-caliber outfielders. If playing time is spread out evenly each one still starts 3 out of 4 games. In the case of the Twins' top four the most significant on-field problem is that Buxton is the only one who bats right-handed.

But...looking at this problem from the general manager's perspective is different. Your team always has one good outfielder not playing. A GM would want to trade from a position of strength to address a position of weakness. The difficult part is finding a team who wants and needs an outfielder and is willing to give up (presumably) a good pitcher in exchange. Easier said than done. In the meantime, we have to put up with having one of the best outfield corps in the game.

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Two weeks ago everyone wanted Cave cut.

Not everyone!


I was glad he was sent to AAA, but I guessed it was just a matter of time before he started hitting better in bigs. While he was down on the farm, he really was the Mike Trout of AAA; some of that had to carry over into the bigs (at least a little) and now we are starting to see the fruit of his play in the minors.

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There never was any chance we could retain the Core of 4 plus Rosario and Berrios. I always thought the least likely to be retained was the pitcher and Rosario was the most easily replaced. I would guess at some point in time we extend either Buxton or Sano, and deal the other.


We will have the ammunition to deal for that elusive, mythical ace in the next year or so.

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