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Jake Cave is Primed to Break Out in 2020


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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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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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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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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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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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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   always  complaining about prospects not given a chance. They aren`t because of the talent ahead of them

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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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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)

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

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Wow, with all the talent on this team Cave was not even on my radar! To hold his own at this stagee of his career is already impressive. But if he really can take it up another notch, that opens up some more options.

 

For instance, instead of trading him, we could trade someone else. If you could play him every day without a big drop off, that makes someone else expendable. It makes me much more interested in trading Buxton for Syndergaard, for example.

 

Kepler in center is a drop off from Buxton, but not as much as the increase in value of having a true ace in the rotation.

 

If either Cave or Rosario can't hack it, corner outfield is our strongest position of depth in the minors.

 

And If Kepler can't hold down center you've got Lewis in waiting there too.

 

Sure, Buxton could be a superstar, but so could Thor. I think we'd be a bigger threat in the playoffs by trading from strength and upgrading our rotation. (Assuming we extended Thor as part of the deal -- I wouldn't trade Buxton for a rental.) But this team would be truly scary with an ace, and Buxton might be the only guy that could land one. The Mets asked about him last year. Why not give them a call?

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While I'm not saying the final spot should go to Astudillo...I think both he and Cave will see time during the season regardless...I'm going to champion the Turtle here some.

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think he's pretty solid defensively having watched him a lot to end '18 as well as his play last season. I think he's fine behind the plate and he's been solid at noth 3B and 1B when I've seen him. In the OF, while his range is limited, I haven't seen him make a poor play that I can recall. Now, the idea of him at 2B for any reason other than emergency seems silly.

 

I also think he can hit and he has developed some power. He actually hit well at times in 2019, before his 1st injury and seemed to be rounding back to form before his 2nd. Something happened to his timing and whole approach somewhere along the line, however, and he was suddenly flailing and missing or making weak contact at stuff out of the zone. If he can reign that back in, he can be pretty effective.

 

I do believe, however, that Cave is absolutely the better and more dangerous hitter.

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I don’t know it La Tortuga is better or worse in the OF than Jake Cave, but I do know I have not saw Turtle dive at a ball that bounces 5’ in front of him, and then jump up and chase it to the fence. That’s where Buxtons speed really shines, getting to the ball while Cave is getting up. :).  Cave is a nice back up for all three OF spots, and can hit a little. But frankly if Cave is a regular in your starting OF, your OF isn’t a strong point. 

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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.

Really an interesting observation. Thanks.

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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.

105 wRC+ is 5% better than the league average.  This is better than Buxton's 84 career wRC+, or Gonzalez's 101, or even Kepler's 102.   Cave has played only 163 MLB games in his career.  And he is 27.  The Twins will be served better with a RH OF on their bench.

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Really? People think Cave is better than Rosario? The Rosario stat-sheet angst has gone way overboard.

 

This highlight reel is from one month of 2019:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6EJ2IxQdvCg

 

So many big hits. Just go back and look at all of them throughout his career. His hot streaks can single handedly carry a team for a month.

 

Oh, and while any other Twins’ player folds like origami against the Yankees in the postseason, Rosario is hitting .313 with an 1.100+ OPS.

 

I don’t care what some of the sabremetrics say, Rosario is a gamer. Nobody in their right mind is taking Cave over Rosario when you’re talking about a big game/big series. Give me Rosario over almost anyone with the bases juiced in the 9th inning of a playoff game.

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It makes me much more interested in trading Buxton for Syndergaard, for example.

 

I think Jiminy is on to the Twins thinking. At some point they will need to make room for the top prospects, both because payroll will climb too high and they are ready. If Buxton doesn’t sign by next offseason (or maybe this coming trade deadline) on a relatively team-friendly deal they have to move him as a key part of a package for a #1. Lewis may be ready to take over without a significant drop off, or Celestino may also be close if Lewis sticks at short.

 

This makes keeping a proven commodity like Cave a priority as a young guy learns the ropes and adapts to MLB pitching.

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I do. Worse.

 

I do think there may be merit to your opinion, but my comment was more nuanced than the paste of a partial observation. :)  nor did I mention Jakes propensity for overrunning ground balls in the OF. Cave can run, and he has range. But the problems  start when he gets to the baseball. 

 

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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.

 

You would have been selling low in an attempt to sell high. You can only sell high with Jake Cave if his sample size increases to establish value.  

 

Of course once his sample increases, those numbers you quote may look different with more stable data. 

 

How do you stabilize the data... give him starts against tougher pitchers I guess. 

 

 

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