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As the Twins Fell Apart, Jake Cave Earned My Respect


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Twins Daily Contributor

In a season of slow unraveling, one moment that stuck out as a sign that things were likely not going to work out as Twins fans might hope was the (almost inevitable) call-up of Jake Cave. DFA’d by the Twins after his particularly rough 2021, Cave accepted his assignment with the St. Paul Saints where he could remain mostly in minor-league news tidbits. It was probably not the best hope for a player whose gray beard has always made him look double his age, but at least a home for less ire by a frustrated fan base looking to lay blame.

Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today

 

 

Jake Cave’s return for 2022 felt frustrating in part when many expected the debut of prospects to be filling those lineup slots. But then an odd thing happened: I didn’t hate Cave this time around. He genuinely seemed to play better every time I expected the worst. And with the season’s doom leading toward more existential questions, a truly odd thought filled my head: Is Jake Cave Good?

Let’s cut to the chase: Not particularly. Jake Cave slashed .213/.260/.384 (.624), only a minor improvement on last year’s .189/.263/.400 (.663) with basically the same number of plate appearances. His WRC+ hovered almost to 100—essentially league average—before crashing down to 81.

And yet there was Cave hustling to first at Yankee Stadium to put Carlos Correa in position to smash a dinger to give the Twins the lead. In the critical Cleveland series, Cave hit a bomb off Triston McKenzie to provide the Twins an early lead. And if you looked out at the outfield, you could have sworn Buxton had transported himself into Cave’s body as he continually laid out to make a few diving catches.

Cave showed significant improvement this year in numerous ways. His Triple-A stint surely helped as he posted a .879 OPS over 85 games, his best since his time in Rochester back in 2019 that eventually landed him on the big-league roster for the last four years. He went on a 49 plate on-base streak, only ended by an unlucky five-inning rain out where he only managed two plate appearances.

When Cave first joined the Twins for the San Francisco Giants series at Target Field that gave one last fresh breath of air into the team, he managed to tie the game in the 9th inning with a single, and then the next day smashed a two-run homer and another double in a rousing victory.

Cave cooled down into his more expected self, but a few notable stats stick out. First, Cave had become a big strikeout guy, particularly in the 2021 season where he was around 35%. Going back to Triple-A worked wonders. He dropped that to 25% and then only climbed up to 27% when he came back for the majors—still below league average, but an improvement.

That came with a sacrifice of power. His BABIP slipped, but there was a big reason for Cave opting for singles: his speed score ballooned from 6.2 after a 3.7 in 2021. To put that into context, only Billy Hamilton and Byron Buxton posted faster speeds for Minnesota this season. I repeat: Jake Cave was the third faster player on the Twins this year. Cave was as fast as new-thorn-for-the-next-seven-years Steven Kwan. And when it came to his defense, his arm strength on Baseball Savant skyrocketed from a mediocre 46% to a shocking 79% within the league

Most notably, Cave improved when it mattered. "Clutch" is a unique metric, but it measures your chance at Win Probability against the stakes of the plate appearance as compared to your overall season numbers (to say the least, Carlos Correa demonstrated a high win probability, but his Clutch was -0.91 given his problems delivering with runners on base. Let’s just call it a “heart and hustle” stat). Cave was second on the Twins in the second half of the season in Clutch, just shy of Gilberto Celestino. His dozen barrels doubled what he managed last year, and with his speed, he managed a trio of triples. 

In the second half, Cave posted a better OPS than Gary Sánchez, Celestino, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco.  He hit about as well as the aging Nelson Cruz did for the Nationals except on a $800k contract that managed a half point of WAR—essentially quadruple his salary. It may have still been frustrating to see Cave batting fifth in a lineup for a playoff contention team, but Cave was hardly the problem given the improvements he demonstrated.

With a huge roster crunch in the coming months, it is likely that Cave once again sees himself in a St. Paul Saints uniform unless another team is looking for some depth in the outfield. But unlike previous years, I have to salute a player who hustled his way into an unfortunate situation and did what he could.

Update: The Baltimore Orioles have claimed Jake Cave off waivers.

For much more Jake Cave content from Twins Daily, click here

 

 


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I agree that he plays hard. His attitude inside some players on this roster with more talent would sure make things fun again. 

Hard to really call for seeing more of him next year, but I agree, he brings something to the Twins that we don't see a ton of anymore. Hats off to him. 

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Considering the plethora of injuries to OFers late in the season, Cave did an adequate job.  To quote Denny Green-----"he is what we thought he is"---a player with a ton of hustle with a great attitude that gives outstanding effort.  The problem is------his overall skill set is that of a AAAA player.  

A MLB team aspiring for playoff baseball should NEVER be in the position of having to give regular playing time/ABs to a player of Cave's caliber.  This is not meant as a slam on Cave.  It IS an indictment of our front office/player development staff that continues to fail to bring up younger more talented players or trade for guys that can produce at a higher rate.

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The Cave man has always been a good 4th or 5th outfielder to have around.  He can play all 3 positions, is a decent defensive player at all 3, and has a little bit of a pop now and then.........mostly then, but what do we truly expect from a utility outfielder?  If you are looking for 4 or 5 starting caliber outfielders, then all you are going to get is a rotation.  Is that what we want?  This extremely humble observer would rather have 3 guys you want to play every day and a guy or two that will sub for any one of them when the time is right.  The Cave man fits that bill, and is priced right for a team that needs a lot of guys priced right.  Give the man his due, gray beard or not.  Another contract like he had in '22 would be perfect.  

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18 minutes ago, darwin22 said:

 This is not meant as a slam on Cave.  It IS an indictment of our front office/player development staff that continues to fail to bring up younger more talented players or trade for guys that can produce at a higher rate.

None of the "younger more talented players" have shown that they are.

Some can hit  but field balls poorly , some can field, none as well as Cave, but have trouble staying above the Mendoza line,  none can hit and field,

Caves numbers his first year up looked good, then came ... after next season,  we will see how "talented " the rookies are.

MIranda

image.png.8631635da87031b989a16d976cef1823.png

Cave - first year

image.png.15b57e2a6f46529204c276e3ed55968d.png

 

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36 minutes ago, darwin22 said:

his overall skill set is that of a AAAA player.  

Bingo!

Nothing wrong with being a AAAA player.  All organizations need them.  In a typical AAAA fashion, Cave has one above-average tool (defense), the rest is a crap shoot of inconsistency.  The reason Jake Cave stays afloat (unlike many other AAAA players) is his attitude and his hustle. You can't be a clubhouse cancer and expect to stick around.

As with other organizations, if your AAAA players are getting a lot of major league time, things are typically not going well.  

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Cave was getting better-than-a-major-league-contract to play for the St. Paul Saints. Twins signed him for $800,000 back in November and removed him from the 40-man sometime thereafter. His choice, to play for the Twins somewhere or not get paid, unless another team also saw him as the bargain.

We could question the Twins wisdom for this as the baseball season started to wind down come September and Cave was still playing, on his major league contract, in St. Paul.

Jharel Cotton signed a similar deal with the Twins, thus why his up-and-odwn continued to happen. The Twins were paying him far more than a minor league salary to be a part of the organization, high enough that NO other team (until the end) wanted to take him off of the Twins hands.

Granted, many minor league free agents get a tad better salary than the minor league base, and that also accounts for them staying with a team  rather than walking, if possible, and returning to the minor league home, if the team will still have them.

I give Cave points for hustle. He wants to play ball, especially major league ball. But considering that he ended up #8 in the depth chart, and would now be behind Wallner at #9 - but still ahead of Billy Hamilton - tells you how bad the Twins outfield situation was in 2022. Hey, he would even be once notch lower if Royce Lewis wasn't injured and played more than his game in the outfield. And, wait, the Twins even advanced Tim Beckham before Cave and felt the need to play him in the outfield.

Cave is an arbitration eligible player, so you have to approach him in that fashion if you wish to keep him, otherwise, be interesting to see where he ends up...and continues his career shades of Robbie Grossman and Rob Refsnyder.

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I agree, Cave's constant hustle was admirable as the season fell apart. I have one complaint though, speed score does not equal a player's running speed. Baseball Savant's sprint speed says he was at 28.0 ft/sec, 8th on the Twins with at least one recorded sprint. Speed score (if you're using FanGraphs' speed score) uses a player's stolen base percentage, frequency of stolen bases, percentage of triples, and runs scored percentage, and FG admits it's an outdated statistic. There's no way it's a reliable way to say Cave was the third-fastest Twin this year. https://library.fangraphs.com/offense/spd/

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38 minutes ago, roger said:

Cave was claimed earlier today by Baltimore.  He is no longer a member of the Twins organization.  Also gone to Detroit today is Palacios.  Hamilton is the third. Player to be claimed and gone.

Too bad, but he is now on a better team and I hope he does well.

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Great article.

Just think... Jake led the outfielders in AB's during a pennant chase. Jake was our go to guy during a pennant chase. We needed Jake to bring us home during a pennant chase. Just think about that for a while because I'm sure very few would have predicted this in March.  

I was searching for a way to express the incongruity of needing Jake Cave to lead us during a pennant chase in September. I couldn't figure out how to make this peculiar point without denigrating Jake because that wouldn't be fair to him. 

The approach you took of praising Jake while pointing directly at the elephant in the room was very well done and fair.

First Class 

 

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17 hours ago, Mark G said:

what do we truly expect from a utility outfielder?  If you are looking for 4 or 5 starting caliber outfielders, then all you are going to get is a rotation.  Is that what we want?  This extremely humble observer would rather have 3 guys you want to play every day and a guy or two that will sub for any one of them when the time is right.  

Here are the 10 outfielders that the Twins tried before they called up Jake Cave on August 2nd and played him 54 out of the final 59 games during a pennant chase.  

The Orignal 5: Buxton, Kepler, Kirilloff, Celestino, Gordon.

Followed by

6. Larnach

7. Garlick

8. Lewis

9. Contreras

10. Beckham

We apparently expect a lot from a utility outfielder. Jake Cave went beyond utility, he was option #11 in the outfield this year. Option #11 played in 54 out of 59 games and he led all of our OF'ers in AB's with 164, while producing a .644 OPS during a pennant chase after he was called up on August 2nd. An OPS of .644 is well below average so this isn't your Hollywood story of Option #11 showing up and grabbing a job with both hands as the team carries him off on shoulders.

This is the story of option #11 becoming the best you got with a .644 OPS and needing him to carry you home during a pennant chase so desperately that he plays 54 out of 59 games with a .644 OPS. 

Yet... we expect a lot of a utility OF because we expect Rocco to still win the weak AL Central with option #11 leading the OF in AB's with a .644 OPS.   

What if you can't find 3 guys that you want to play every day? 

How well does a player have to perform to hold down that every day job while holding a guy or two on every roster to sporadic sub. 

What if your 5th Outfielder is better than your 2nd Outfielder.

What are the odds that the 3 chosen ones are healthy all year? 

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Good luck in Baltimore Jake. You have always had my respect for you skills and your attitude, resulting in playing the game like it mattered. You win the Twins Daily "Hustle Award" for 2022. I wish you the very best and you will love living in Baltimore. Try Obryki's Crab House. Delicious. 

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14 hours ago, roger said:

Cave was claimed earlier today by Baltimore.  He is no longer a member of the Twins organization.  Also gone to Detroit today is Palacios.  Hamilton is the third. Player to be claimed and gone.

If the season started today, Who is the back-up catcher for the Twins? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBODY ! Check out the top 30 Twins prospects and see who is in the pipe line to be a future catcher for the Twins. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBODY.  There is no catcher among the Twins top 30 prospects. Well there is always  Free Agency. Let's see who the available free agent catchers are: Contreras is ranked in the second ten among all Free Agents, but will probably receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs, which means the team which gets him in Free Agency will take a hit. Gary Sanchez is the 3rd ranked catcher in FA and he is a known quantity. I was pleased with Sanchez's work behind the plate and as a hitter. I suggest the FO make a concerted effort to sign Sanchez to 3 year/ 30 million dollar contract, as soon as the Dodgers strike out the last Astro hitter to win the world series. 

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43 minutes ago, tarheeltwinsfan said:

If the season started today, Who is the back-up catcher for the Twins? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBODY ! Check out the top 30 Twins prospects and see who is in the pipe line to be a future catcher for the Twins. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBODY.  There is no catcher among the Twins top 30 prospects. Well there is always  Free Agency. Let's see who the available free agent catchers are: Contreras is ranked in the second ten among all Free Agents, but will probably receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs, which means the team which gets him in Free Agency will take a hit. Gary Sanchez is the 3rd ranked catcher in FA and he is a known quantity. I was pleased with Sanchez's work behind the plate and as a hitter. I suggest the FO make a concerted effort to sign Sanchez to 3 year/ 30 million dollar contract, as soon as the Dodgers strike out the last Astro hitter to win the world series. 

The Twins don't have to wait until the end of the series to sign one of their own free agents, do they?  I thought they could negotiate and sign their own guys during this period.  As for signing Sanchez, I was really hoping they could get someone who is better defensively.  And you are right, there isn't much in the pipeline for backups.

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Great article. I have a ton of respect for Cave as a guy who lays it all on the line, and plays with hustle and baseball smarts. (If Gilberto Celestino had half of that savvy hustle he could be a solid starting OF; as it is I'd rather see Cave playing.)

I also think Jake is playing at his ceiling, and that is probably as AAA depth. Glad he is getting an opportunity with Baltimore, because if he is getting the innings he got down the stretch here (and in the middle of the order at times), the Twins are probably in crisis mode. 

The planned OF depth chart has melted down two years in a row now, and the Twins need to address it that in the offseason with a serious addition to the roster. Going into 2023 with only Gordon as the only healthy MLB OF on the roster with a full healthy year won't cut it. 

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Totally agree that Cave was a big ball of hustle. But that doesn't make up for a lack of talent. 

Delighted to see him claimed by Baltimore today. One of my biggest hopes for 2023 was to NOT see Cave in a Twins uniform again. As soon as he received the call in 2022, you knew the Twins season was over. You can't roll with dead weight like Cave every day in the outfield & expect to make the playoffs. 

I hope he does well in Baltimore or wherever he ultimately lands. 

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I honestly think the Twins need to sign an outfielder this offseason. Someone right handed that can hit the ball above average. That way, when Buxton sits out, we would have someone that can play on a corner and move either Kepler or Celestino to center and not worry about how they hit. 

That or sign a real CF that can both field the ball well and hit. Either way, you will need someone to backup Buxton, because there is only a 2% chance he plays more than 90 games or so. Even when he is in there, he is the DH as often as the CF. I think Celestino has the defensive talent to replace him, but his bat isn't great. He also needs "baseball class" for the entire offseason to learn how to actually play the game. It boggles my mind that a guy can make it to the major leagues, yet be much further behind in knowing how to play than the average 16u travel ball player. 

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2 hours ago, PatPfund said:

Great article. I have a ton of respect for Cave as a guy who lays it all on the line, and plays with hustle and baseball smarts. (If Gilberto Celestino had half of that savvy hustle he could be a solid starting OF; as it is I'd rather see Cave playing.)

I also think Jake is playing at his ceiling, and that is probably as AAA depth. Glad he is getting an opportunity with Baltimore, because if he is getting the innings he got down the stretch here (and in the middle of the order at times), the Twins are probably in crisis mode. 

The planned OF depth chart has melted down two years in a row now, and the Twins need to address it that in the offseason with a serious addition to the roster. Going into 2023 with only Gordon as the only healthy MLB OF on the roster with a full healthy year won't cut it. 

Not to mention there is no guarantee that Gordon will be next year what he was this year. Production fluctuations happen all the time from the first year to the next. 

The Twins have to add a good OF next year. They have to. 

Kepler, Gordon, Larnach are not names that you can fill into a space and say: Eureka, we got our guy so let's stop looking. Not to mention the forever cloud of Buxton health.

The 5 OF spots on the 26 man next year has to look like this

Buxton

Good NEW addition

Gordon

Larnach

Kepler

The Twins have to add an outfielder this off-season. A good outfielder. Have to.  

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