"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Battles: Center Field

With the Grapefruit League schedule kicking off on Wednesday, I wanted to take these last two day of inaction to take a look at the key position battles being waged in Yankee camp. I’ll start today with the most significant: the center-field battle between Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner.

First the tale of the tape:

  Melky Cabrera Brett Gardner
Age (DOB) 24 (8/11/84) 25 (8/24/85)
Height – Wt 5’11″ -  200 5’10″ – 180
Bat/Throw S/L L/L
ML career (PA) .268/.329/.374 (1,608) .228/.283/.299 (141)
mL career (PA) .296/.347/.420 (1,621) .291/.389/.385 (1,738)

Cabrera is theoretically the incumbent, but Gardner started in center in 12 of the Yankees’ last 15 games of 2008 after Cabrera effectively lost the center field job in early August. Cabrera made just five starts in center after August 3 and was even demoted to Triple-A for three weeks and recalled only after rosters expanded in September. In that sense, Gardner is the incumbent, but really, despite the large discrepancy in their major league service time, neither player entered camp with the upper hand in this battle.

This battle is topsy-turvy in other ways. For example, the less experienced Gardner is the win-now player given his minor league promise of solid on-base numbers (.389 mL career OBP), excellent defense, and spectacular speed on the bases (153 minor league stolen bases at an 83% success rate, 13 for 14 on the bases in the majors). Meanwhile, the appeal of Cabrera, the experienced major leaguer, is his potential. Cabrera has shown flashes of power at the plate, particularly early last season when he slugged .505 with six homers through May 4. Cabrera is unlikely to ever develop into a serious home-run threat, but Gardner is a pure slap hitter, with just nine career home runs as a pro and an isolated slugging in the minors of just .094. Gardner seems unlikely to ever hit for much power, but there remains some hope that Cabrera, who is a year younger, may yet blossom into a complete hitter.

The problem is that Cabrera’s performance on the field has been heading in the opposite direction. Cabrera hit .280/.360/.391 as a rookie left fielder in 2006, displaying solid plate discipline for a 21-year-old as well as some doubles power (26 in 524 PA) and falling just short of a league-average performance overall. In 2007, however, his plate discipline melted away without a corresponding increase in power (.273/.327/.391), and last year, after that hot start, he simply stopped hitting, batting .235/.280/.286 from May 5 through the end of the season, a line worse than Gardner’s seemingly pathetic rookie showing.

Given that Gardner was just breaking into the majors last year, been reliably productive in the minors, and seemed to heat up at the end of last season, hitting .294/.333/.412 in 73 PA his second of two major league stints, there’s every reason to believe that Gardner will significantly improve on his overall major league line if given the chance this season, but given Cabrera’s steady regression, there are far fewer reasons to continue to believe in Melky. It’s not as though Melky does anything else better than Gardner. Melky can steal bases, but he might steal 15, while Gardner could easily steal more than 50 and lead the league if he starts every day, and he’ll do it at a higher success rate than Cabrera’s. Melky has shown flashes of brilliance in the field, but Gardner, thanks in part to his superior speed, is going to turn more balls into outs in center, just as he’s likely to make fewer outs at the plate.

According to Dave Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range, Melky was the best defensive left fielder in baseball in 2006 but has displayed merely average range in center over the last two years. Gardner did not play enough to register on Pinto’s major league-only system, but per Ultimate Zone Rating, Gardner’s defense in center was worth  9.1 runs to Melky’s pedestrian 0.6 last year, a remarkable stat given that Gardner played just 160 2/3 innings in center for the Yankees, while Melky played 973 2/3. Of course, the small sample warnings about Gardner’s major league statistics are particularly acute when it comes to fielding, both because he spent a significant chunk of his first major league stint in left, and because fielding stats are so suspect to start with. It would be cherry-picking to write off Gardner’s poor performance at the plate in the majors as a small sample while emphasizing his absurd advantage over Cabrera in UZR. That said, what I saw watching the games supported the statistics’ assertion that Gardner has the superior range in center. Cabrera still has the better arm, but not by as much as one might think;  Gardner recorded four assists in his 22 major league games in center, showing a strong and accurate throwing arm that opposing runners would be ill-advised to test.

So Melky’s case comes down to power and potential, and it seems unlikely that he has shown enough of either to outweigh Gardner’s advantages on the bases, in the field, and in getting on-base. Melky’s 2008 season cracked the lenses of the rose-colored glasses that looked at his first two seasons and saw shades of fellow switch-hitting center fielder Bernie Williams’ early-career struggles. Bernie didn’t really start to come on until his age-25 season, which would give Cabrera another year, but it’s hard now look at the stocky, stumbling Cabrera and see any resemblance to the fawn-like awkwardness of the blossoming Bernie.

Hitting coach Kevin Long seems to believe that he can get Gardner to hit with doubles power by increasing the involvement of Gardner’s lower body in his swing. If Gardner shows any signs of proving Long right this spring, the job should be his. The catch is that, due to Cabrera’s pennant-race demotion last year, Melky is now out of options, meaning the Yankees would have to either keep him on the 25-man roster as a fifth outfielder (a platoon with Gardner wouldn’t work–Melky hit just .213/.279/.299 against lefties last year and has hit just .251/.319/.329 against southpaws in his major league career, while Gardner actually had a reverse split in Triple-A last year), or expose him to waivers in an attempt to outright him to Scranton. The latter would almost surely result in Cabrera being claimed by another team. The Yankees avoided arbitration by signing Cabrera to a $1.4 million contract last month, which would seem to strongly indicate that the Yankees have no intention of divesting themselves of Cabrera, but as a fifth-outfielder, Cabrera would be  a drain on the roster and would stand little chance of restarting his development. Then again, perhaps that $1.4 million price tag is just enough to prevent the sort of team that might make a claim on Cabrera from doing so. If Cabrera can’t win the center field job in camp, that may be a chance the Yankees have to take, particularly with Austin Jackson headed for Triple-A already having already unseated Cabrera as the team’s Center Fielder of the Future.

Tags:  Brett Gardner  Melky Cabrera

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41 comments

1 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 23, 2009 1:22 pm

They completely ruined Melky's development and completely squandered his options. And this goes back to their mis-management of Bernie's final years. In the case of CF, the Yankee front office has shown to be lacking any clue.

2 a.O   ~  Feb 23, 2009 1:30 pm

Excellent piece on this, the most important of the battles. I think Gardner has some pretty amazing potential. Watching him on the basepaths last season was incredibly impressive (except for the time he got picked off of first). If he can put the ball in play enough, he could be in CF for 10 years.

3 jonnystrongleg   ~  Feb 23, 2009 1:56 pm

Anybody watch any of Gardner's games last year? His speed was indeed impressive. His swing, though, appeared to be the swing of an alien creature who was transported into the on-deck-circle moments before his time at plate and he had to figure out how to hit a baseball in the few seconds before the pitcher delivered.

This guy has probably been playing baseball for around 15-20 years, and this is the best he could come up with? The reason he swings like a broken gate is probably because he can't hit the ball taking a real cut. He learned over the years to put the ball in play with that sad stroke, but I don't think it's prudent to expect any kind of major improvement now that's he facing the best pitching on the planet on a regular basis.

4 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 23, 2009 1:57 pm

[2]

I think the biggest battle will be between Jorge Posada and the tag team of Father Time and Dr. James Andrews, as it were.

The Yankees had a significant positional advantage at catcher for the last few years. 2008 changed all that, and they were barely average.

5 Ben   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:14 pm

I'll enjoy watching Gardner. I love speed. I've learned in the past few years it's not great strategy to always run, but I love watching that element of the game. Nothing like watching a pitcher get jumpy with a speed demon on first and a guy like Damon or jeter at bat??? forget it.

That being said... I didn't realize Melky was so young. It does seem like they've effed up his development. I hope things work out for both players, be it here or somewheres else.

6 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:16 pm

[3] Take this with a huge grain of salt, because I am no scout and its small sample size etc etc - but I saw Gardner play a couple of games in the minors last year. His swing down there looked nothing like his swing the few times I caught him on TV when he was in the big leagues.

I don't know if that means anything - maybe it was just the different vantage point - but I guess I'm saying, I wouldn't write him off on the basis of how his swing looked across 40-some-odd games.

[0] Cliff, I agree that having Melky sit on the bench as the 5th OF will not help him turn his talent into skills. The Yanks, on paper, have lots of OF depth, but I wonder if it will play out that way. Matsui is supposedly limited to DH, Damon is 35, Nady (in my mind at least) and Gardner are both question marks with the bat. All but Gardner are likely to be gone after this year. Outside of Matt Holiday, I think next year's OF free agent market is pretty subpar. Jackson is the only OF prospect of real value in the upper minors. As crazy as this might sound, can the Yanks afford to let Melky go?

7 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:26 pm

Matsui is absolutely limited to DH, that's been true since late 2007, and Nady is less a question mark than nothing more than a league-average bat (a.k.a. fourth or platoon outfielder). You're point about the 2010 outfield is extremely valid, but I remain unconvinced that Melky is the answer, or that there's any real solution to his option issue other than either having him win the job or hoping his salary gets him through waivers.

8 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:32 pm

Jeter in CF in 2010 anybody?

(yeah, I know .... a thousand questions surround THAT possibility)

9 monkeypants   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:37 pm

[0] I think that Melky's power potential should not be exaggerated. The strongest evidence for his supposed developing power was his early season slugging last year: as Cliff notes, .505 SLG and 6 HR through early May.

But check out his Hit Tracker page for last year:

http://tinyurl.com/bkmkmt

In short: his average HR distance was less than 370 feet; he hit only two HR longer than 400 feet; and five of his eight HRs were pretty much wall scrapers down the RF line. His power surge in April included two dead pull jobs at Yankee Stadium, estimated 346' and 325'.

In other words, his power last season was largely the product of luck.

Now, he may be better than Gardner. But Melky's true power potential is far more likley to be in line with his .420 SLG in MiL. At the same time, I suspect that Gardners OBP will end up closer to his MiL number of .385. If that's the case, then which do you prefer: the slightly more powerful slap hitter, or the more patient slap hitter?

10 monkeypants   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:38 pm

[8] No, and who plays SS? Or 3B, when the answer is inevitably A-Rod?

11 Raf   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:43 pm

They completely ruined Melky’s development and completely squandered his options.

Not quite sure I agree with that, considering his AAA performances in 2006 & 2008. Injuries were the reason he got the call in 2005 & 2006. His performance in 2006 were the reason he stuck around in 07, and was given so much playing time in 08.

12 Raf   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:45 pm

and who plays SS? Or 3B, when the answer is inevitably A-Rod?

Depends on who becomes available via FA or trade.

13 monkeypants   ~  Feb 23, 2009 2:53 pm

[12] But the same could be said of CF. In fact, the odds are better that the Yankees can find a CF who improves on production at the position more easily than they can find SS X or 3B Y such that Jeter CF + X or Y yields greater benefits. And it would involve moving fewer players around a month before the start of the season.

Heck, if worse comes to worst, they can rotate Damon into the CF mix and work Nady and Sisher at the corners, and/or pick up another corner OF.

I am not adverse to Jeter moving (I still think that 2B, now, would be the best fit for his bat and "range"), but to thrust him in CF at this juncture, to solve the CF problem which has been there since last season, seems like it would cause more problems than it's worth.

14 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 23, 2009 3:01 pm

[13]

I wouldn't mind seeing Jeter at 2b, especially since we now have a 1b that can cover some ground when Jeter can't move to his left ...

So, is the 2009 off-season SS free agent crop more bountiful than than of CFers?

Robinson Cano in CF anyone?

(Hey, I'm just throwing 'em out there for brainstorming)

15 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 23, 2009 3:08 pm

[8] No, and not just because of all the stuff Raf and monkeypants cover in [10]-[13]. My primary reason is that the Yanks' most advanced prospect is a CF!

[7] I think you're probably right, but the issue had been in my head, so I wanted to ask your thoughts. This all gets back to something MichiganYankee and I discussed earlier in the offseason - maybe the Yanks shouldn't have demoted Melky last August. If they had held onto that last option, they'd be a lot better off right now.

Of course its all moot if Melky hits well, wins the job, and keeps hitting well.

[9] Since OBP is more valuable than SLG, I'll take the more patient (and much faster) slap hitter.

16 Raf   ~  Feb 23, 2009 3:12 pm

But the same could be said of CF. In fact, the odds are better that the Yankees can find a CF who improves on production at the position more easily than they can find SS X or 3B Y such that Jeter CF + X or Y yields greater benefits. And it would involve moving fewer players around a month before the start of the season.

Like I said, it depends on who becomes available. Having said that, given enough time, any player should be able to learn a new position if required.

Anyway, there are so many ways that this can work, whether the organization does what you mentioned, or if they take another approach.

17 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 23, 2009 3:20 pm

2008 AL "slash stats" by position:

SS: .266/.319/.375
CF: .269 /.334/.412

18 Rich   ~  Feb 23, 2009 3:34 pm

What has concerned me most about Gardner's mL career was his less than impressive contact rate.

At this point, I think Jeter's next move has to be to LF, although they have to acquire a top tier defensive SS first.

19 JL25and3   ~  Feb 23, 2009 3:41 pm

If I figure it correctly, the Yankees really did a terrible job in blowing Melky's last option.

If a player's optioned for less than 20 days, it doesn't count against the option limit. The Yankees sent Melky down on 8/15, recalled him on 9/4 - a total of exactly 20 days. (You count the day he was optioned, not the day he was recalled.) Bringing him back one day earlier would have cost them absolutely nothing, since the rosters had already expanded.

I really think that's a brutal error on the front office's part.

20 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 23, 2009 3:59 pm

[19] That sound you just heard was my head hitting my desk in disgust. What were the Yanks thinking?

21 tommyl   ~  Feb 23, 2009 4:39 pm

[20] They weren't, as usual. As much as I hate to say this, its one of the things that other teams with more streamlined FOs do much better than the Yankees. I remain convinced that this team has no actual coherent plan. It seems to change from year to year. Last year it was all about bringing in youth and building from within. This year its all about signing every single high priced player they can.

I'm not the biggest fan of Torre and Verducci's book, but reading through it, especially some of the FO decisions that were made makes me bang my head against the wall, a lot. This team oftens behaves in reactionary ways. The Sox signed a high priced Japanese "ace" so we go sign Igawa. This team has problems with its pitching so we go pick up Pavano, Wright, RJ etc. Joe decides that Weaver "can't hack it in NY" so we ship him off for Kevin freakin' Brown. We seem to hold on to every RHRP alive and trade Tabata. That's not team building. I know the Red Sox have lucked into a lot of things as well, but they do seem to have some actual plan going on there. Ditto Tampa Bay.

22 ms october   ~  Feb 23, 2009 4:50 pm

good stuff cliff.
looking forward to the nady/swisher one too.

[18] yeah gardner cannot afford to k much.

[19] i agree about the stupidity of the recall and seniding him down when they did was almost just as bad - it served very little purpose at that point in the season.

jl25and3 has basically convinced me to abandon hope for melky, but the one thing i still hold out a glimmer of hope on is what he did in 06 in a decent sample size. was his plate discipline then an utter and total fluke? did his early power last year make him think he was a hr hitter and that lead to his abysmal approach?

23 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 23, 2009 5:22 pm

@11

How many AAA at-bats did he have before 2008?

24 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 23, 2009 5:24 pm

I really think that’s a brutal error on the front office’s part.

How long has the GM had his job?

25 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 23, 2009 5:29 pm

[21] I'm as disgusted by the mess up over Melky's last option as you are, tommyl. I'm not sure if there is a "master plan" in the Yanks' FO, but to call the offseason "all about signing every single high priced player they can" seems to stretch it a bit much, no? The Yanks have had a huge hole at 1B for years. Tex is going to be 29, is a good-to-great defender, an excellent switch hitter, and because of his age and athleticism, he's likely to age well. CC is the best young starter to hit free agency since Moose (and younger than Moose, might I add, as well as a lefty). Those are EXACTLY the kind of premier talents the Yanks should lavish boatloads of cash on. As much as I think they overpaid for Burnett, I see two advantages. He strikes guys out, so his fortunes won't depend on the potentially porous Yankee defense as much as nearly any other non-CC available free agent. While I wanted Phil Hughes to get a rotation slot as much as anyone, the Yanks already had one innings-limited pitcher in the rotation (Joba), and two might have been too much.

BTW, there's still plenty of building from within (see the bullpen, for starters, and watch what happens when a starter gets hurt), and focus on youth (Tex is 29, CC is 28, Swisher is 28 - quite a swing from Giambi (37), Moose (39), and Abreu (34), no?).

I'm also not sure how much cachet I'd give Torre and Verducci's book re: characterizing front office moves. Torre clearly had a beef with Cashman at the end, and IMHO, Torre was no talent evaluator. Just as one example, he preferred T-Ball Long to any of the youngsters on hand. Of all the moves you mention, only two rate as "just" Cashman's: Igawa (a mistake), and the Nady/Marte trade, which involved 3 RHP in addition to Tabata, none of whom the Yanks are likely to miss. And whatever Tabata might become, he had basically quit on Trenton, and clearly needed a real kick in the pants to get going. It might hurt the Yanks, but first let's see if the kid even makes it to the bigs.

Cash has assembled a great rotation, an excellent (and crazy cheap) power bullpen, and (all things considered) a good offense. The bench could be better, but no one's perfect (the Sox signed Julio Lugo, for example). I think there's a guiding vision, that adapts its "plan" to the circumstances at the time, and that's a heck of a lot better than what happened the previous decade or so.

26 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Feb 23, 2009 5:41 pm

If [19] is right I find it hard to believe and pretty damned horrific. As in: someone should lose their job, and I'd include the guys on the Yankee press beat for not making it a big headline by now ... indeed, it should have been a headline last summer. Can't anyone here REPORT this game? Let alone manage a team.

Is this, in other words, a confirmed blunder? That Melky Cabrera is out of options because he was recalled one day to late? Say it ain't so.

Having said this, I am with those who are jury's put (way out) on Gardner as a major league player. I have vivid memories of OFs playing so shallow they were on top of the infielders for his at-bats, to the point of raising issues of decency. Speed at #9 is nice, yes, but he isn't going to steal 50 there.

Jeter ... the move to 2nd base is NOT a saunter across the diamond. This is a hard switch and the net gain has to be pretty securely established as his D may well be worse there. If he's a CF in 2010-11, then Austin J's been a major disappointment. LF? First time I've heard that. When Damon retires, maybe. I'd bet against though. More likely we look for another true OF with tools post-Damon, and Jeter stays where he is.

27 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 23, 2009 6:40 pm

I'm getting a real Andy Phillips vibe from Gardner. I think he looked even worse than his line for the majority of the year last year (30 Ks in 127 AB). He didn't seem to have any real plate discipline beyond taketaketaketaketaketaketake. He just screams AAAA to me.

28 monkeypants   ~  Feb 23, 2009 6:57 pm

[27] You could be right. The one thing in his favor is that he first saw significant time in the majors at 24, rather than 28, so he still has some room to develop. Ultimately, I don't have much faith in either Gardner or Melky, but I am willing to throw Gardner against the wall and see if he sticks.

[19] et al: this does seem like a screw up on the Yankees part, unless they really have lost interest in Melky such that this is last go round with the team if he does not succeed. or they plan to trade him. Still, it is probably best to save the option.

I don't recall the situation of his call-up. Was there an injury, or some other strategic consideration?

29 Raf   ~  Feb 23, 2009 11:00 pm

How many AAA at-bats did he have before 2008?

223 AB's at 20 & 21 years old.

30 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Feb 23, 2009 11:47 pm

[27] ouch..but I agree. Gardner works well as a LIDR and speedster off the bench, not someone to give 500+ at bats to.

Any truth to the Melky-Cano party posse that Max Kellerman has mentioned more than once on his podcast? Maybe a bit more focus and conditioning would help him..I'll always love Melky if only for his Rocky Balboa hand-in-the-air curtain call last year..

31 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 24, 2009 6:20 am

@29

That's total, across two seasons. So basically before the age of 22, they gave him less than half a season to develop at AAA. And they clearly squandered two of his options - his first (when he clearly wasn't ready) and his last (when it was too late for his 2008).

32 monkeypants   ~  Feb 24, 2009 7:23 am

[1] , [11]

They completely ruined Melky’s development and completely squandered his options.

I also question the assertion that the Yankees "ruined Melky's development." His MiL stats were .296/.347/.420. As a major leaguer, he has produced .268/.329/.374. Isn't that pretty much in line with what would be expected? If you take out last season (chalk it up as a fluky down year) and the first season (clearly outmatched, as are most 20/21 y.o.), you still only have a player with about (I'm estimating roughly here) .275/.345/.391. Again, this is pretty much in line with what he did at MiL, knocking off a few points for moving to ML.

In other words, there is no evidence the Yankees ruined Melky's development. If anything, he seems to have developed so far as expected. We all simply made the mistake of believing he's more of a player than he (probably) really is.

Now, as for squandering his options...that's another story.

33 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 24, 2009 8:29 am

Isn’t that pretty much in line with what would be expected?

No. Not even close from a guy who did all that in the minors by age 21.

In other words, there is no evidence the Yankees ruined Melky’s development.

Ah, yes. Just toss out the data that doesn't agree with your conclusion, then conclude with your conclusion any ways.

That Melky slugged .420 in the minors, when he was young for every league he played in, should tell you everything. So should the less than then half a year of AAA at-bats. All total, Melky was given 649 at-bats between AA and AAA by the age of 21. By contrast, Austin Jackson just OPSed .773 in 520 AA at-bats at age 21. By your logic, we'll be lucky to get a .700 OPS from him in the majors. He's done developing!

That Melky has regressed completely shows pitchers now know how to deal with him and he has no idea how to adjust. Funny enough, that's exactly what players learn (and don't learn) in the minors. Melky was never given a legitimate chance because the organization was too busy trying to cover up for their fuck ups in CF.

34 monkeypants   ~  Feb 24, 2009 9:11 am

[33] Ah, yes. Just toss out the data that doesn’t agree with your conclusion, then conclude with your conclusion any ways.

Slow down, daddy-o, I never tossed anything out. I simply translated his composite MiL numbers to ML, assuming that most minor leaguers put up somewhat lower numbers at the ML level. You make a good point about his age, though.

By contrast, Austin Jackson just OPSed .773 in 520 AA at-bats at age 21. By your logic, we’ll be lucky to get a .700 OPS from him in the majors. He’s done developing!

That's a fair point, given their young ages. On the other hand, in my (albeit limited) experience, players don't seem to improve their production as they progress through MiL, unless they repeat a season at the same level. If a player has mediocre numbers, he often stays there, unless (as you point out) he's REALLY young for the level. The real prospects tend to dominate, especially at the lower levels.

Consider the numbers of someone like, say, Nick Johnson (I know, different position): he obliterated the lower minors, with OPS of 1000+ at age 19 and 20, at AA, .869 at AAA at age 22. He was putting up crazy OBP.

Or a better comparison: Bernie Williams, who was putting up 800+ OPS stops at various levels, and he always had a much higher OBP than BA, indicating excellent plate discipline even at a very young age. Melky never put up that kind of consistent MiL production, save 300 games at AAA where he mashed in 2006 (which no doubt further encouraged the organization that he was ready).

Returning to you Austin Jackson reference, there is a reason why his stock is starting to waver, ever so slightly. And that is precisely for the reason you cite: his less than impressive production at AA, after mashing at high A.

That Melky has regressed completely shows pitchers now know how to deal with him and he has no idea how to adjust.

Maybe--maybe--if Melky was given a couple of more seasons in AA and AAA, he would have learned to adjust better. But I have a hard time believing that it is impossible for a player to learn at ML. After all, he had found relative success by his first (almost) full season (the same year he seems to have mastered AAA). Are we to believe that in the subsequent two seasons he could not learn to adjust? That this could only take place at AAA?

I have a hard time believing that. I think with Melky it's WYSWYG. I allowed that last year was a fluky bad season. I have no doubt that he could bounce back and we see something more like 2006. But little in his MiL record, even accounting for his age, suggest that he will ever develop into much more.

35 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 24, 2009 9:44 am

Maybe–maybe–if Melky was given a couple of more seasons in AA and AAA, he would have learned to adjust better.

How about a full season at either first?

After all, he had found relative success by his first (almost) full season

My explanation is just as likely. Pitchers hadn't yet adjusted. Now he has never adjusted back.

the same year he seems to have mastered AAA

After 200+ ABs? Half of which were terrible (sub.700 OPS) and the other half were excellent (900+)?

But little in his MiL record, even accounting for his age, suggest that he will ever develop into much more.

At 19, his only year where he was about the same age at his competition:

.304 .352 .446 .798 between 504 ABs in A and A+

That's a fine CF or even LF. Melky was never given a legitimate chance to become that. They obviously rushed him in 2005. 2006 was fine, but when he regressed throughout 2007, he should certainly have found AAA again. Instead they wasted another year of his development.

But glad you agree with me on Austin Jackson. You've proved my point. Bernie too. Not only did he reach the majors halfway through his year 22 season, or a year after Melky, but he had accumulated 1248 ABs between AA and AAA before he got a full-time MLB job in his age 24 season. Yeah, that's twice as many upper level at-bats than Melky's ever received.

Actually, you're doing an excellent job of proving my case. Look at Bernie's development:

age 19 - A+ - .936 OPS - 337 AB
age 20 - AA - .824 OPS - 314 AB
age 20 - AAA - .640 OPS - 162 AB
age 21 - AA - .823 OPS - 466 AB
age 22 - AAA - .840 OPS - 306 AB
age 22 - MLB - . 686 OPS - 320 AB
age 23 - AAA - .874 OPS - 363 AB
age 23 - MLB - .760 OPS - 261 AB

So let's see. Stick Michael gave Bernie three swings at AAA. After a poor first showing in AAA, he stuck him in AA for the full following season. If anything, Bernie shows exactly how development is supposed to go. Now imagine if the Yanks had stuck him in the majors at age 21 and left him there.

Thanks for proving my point!

36 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 24, 2009 9:53 am

P.s. If you want compare power and development, Bernie never slugged .500 in the minors at any level. At age 21, he slugged .414 in a full AA season (or when Melky was already a full time MLBer). Bernie didn't end up slugging .500 until his age 27 season then did it for six seasons.

To further disprove your top of the head MLEs:

Bernie Williams:
MiLB: .285 .394 .428
MLB: .297 .381 .477

Hmmm, where did those extra fifty points of slugging come from.

37 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 24, 2009 10:04 am

P.p.s. To be clear, I'm not saying Melky would have been Bernie 2.0. Just that with a proper development, he could have been a fine .800 OPS (.350 OBP/.450 SLG) for CF then LF.

38 Raf   ~  Feb 24, 2009 10:41 am

Melky got the call in 2005 because Bernie was for all intents and purposes done, and Bubba Crosby, Tony Womack & Hideki Matsui weren't cutting it in CF

From the NYT
"Who would have thought the $200 million Yankees would wind up starting a 20-year-old in center and a 22-year-old at second in Cano, and have a 25-year-old in the starting rotation in Chien-Ming Wang, all before the All-Star Game break? Torre called the infusion of youth refreshing.

"Starting the season, there was no chance any of this was going to happen," Torre said.

Yet it has happened, by necessity, because the Yankees have been sluggish for too long. General Manager Brian Cashman surveyed the market for available outfielders to improve the team defensively and asked about Oakland's Mark Kotsay, Seattle's Randy Winn, Florida's Juan Encarnacion and the Mets' Mike Cameron.

But Cashman said teams were either holding onto their outfielders or were requesting what he called astronomical prices, so, after debating the move for two weeks, the Yankees summoned Cabrera.

Cabrera hit .267 with 9 homers and 44 runs batted in during 75 games for Class AA Trenton. He was promoted to Columbus on June 28, although the Yankees considered jumping him to the major leagues then, and he batted .324 with 3 homers and 11 R.B.I.

Still, before last night, Cashman and Torre had never seen Cabrera play. A switch-hitter who throws left-handed, Cabrera was rated as the best defensive outfielder in the organization by Baseball America last winter. Although Torre said the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Cabrera did not have blinding speed, he was a solid outfielder.

"I told him that's his job," Torre said. "Anything he does with the bat is a bonus."

After canvassing several team executives for opinions on Cabrera, Cashman called George Steinbrenner, the principal owner, at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday and told him he wanted to make the move. Steinbrenner told Cashman to forge ahead. If Cabrera is not ready, the Yankees will return him to Columbus and probably revisit the trade market."

39 Raf   ~  Feb 24, 2009 10:43 am

the NYDN
"I thought he took charge in center field and that's the main reason he's here and out there," Joe Torre said. "He's pretty consistent defensively, and before the game I told him that's his job. Anything he gives us offensively is a bonus."

Cabrera was voted the "best defensive outfielder" in the Yanks' system by Baseball America last winter. The former Staten Island Yankee also had 12 homers and 55 RBI in 84 games in his two minor-league stops this season before dropping in a bloop single to left in four trips last night in his major-league debut.

"I feel really happy to get my first hit at Yankee Stadium and play in my first game," Cabrera said through an interpreter after the game. "I like to play center field."

GM Brian Cashman admitted an unattractive and costly trade market - he's made inquiries about Oakland's Mark Kotsay, the Mets' Mike Cameron and others - and the continued poor outfield play of Bernie Williams and Tony Womack in center contributed to the decision to accelerate Cabrera's arrival in the middle of a pennant race.

"At the very least, he's here because of the belief that he might be better than what we have right now," Cashman said. "If indeed he is better than what we're running out there right now, it's worth a try.

"It's a combination of where our current roster was at, what the current trade market continues to be and a young kid that continues to impress a lot of people down below. Those three things created the perfect circumstance for me to strongly consider this."

Cashman pointed out the Yankees had been ousted in recent postseasons by teams whose rosters included key players who started the season no higher than Double-A. The Angels, with reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and the Marlins, with Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, immediately sprung to mind.

Melky Cabrera batted .324 in nine games with Triple-A Columbus after he was promoted June 28 from Double-A Trenton. That initial promotion was a result of organizational meetings that took place that week in Tampa at George Steinbrenner's behest, although Torre acknowledged the Yanks also considered promoting Cabrera directly from Double-A at the time.

Over the past two weeks, Cashman said he has consulted virtually everyone in the organization who has seen Cabrera play regularly since he signed with the Yanks as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, "trying to find anybody who could give me a reason why not to try it now."

After talking extensively with Tampa-based executives Mark Newman, Gordon Blakeley and Stick Michael, as well as Trenton manager Billy Masse and Columbus skipper Bucky Dent, Cashman called Steinbrenner around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night for approval.

40 MichiganYankee   ~  Feb 24, 2009 12:27 pm

Whereas Melky as a 5th outfielder would be a drain on the roster, Gardner would be a valuable bench player. He could pinch-run for Swisher or Nady, bumping Melky to right, or he could pinch-run for the catcher. For this reason, I would recommend giving Melky a long leash on the starting job. If he proves by mid-May that he's not up to it, cut him loose. Granted, the drop in stock accompanying a poor start will eliminate his trade value, but it may also protect him from a waiver claim.

41 monkeypants   ~  Feb 24, 2009 12:33 pm

[35][36][37]

Bernie never slugged .500 at any level in the minors, but he always had excellent OBP, far better than Melky had (in, admittedly, fewer MiL ABs). So there was much stronger evidence that Bernie would develop into a ML quality hitter. That he grew into power was a nice bonus.

I'm not sure many would have predicted that he would add fifty points of slugging at age 27, and I think it's rather optimistic to assume that Melky or any other player will as a natural course, especially when that player never had the same plate discipline in his minor league career. Where did Bernie's extra slugging come from? Well, he played in the 1990s and early 2000s. I have one possible answer.

Your chart in [35], where I supposedly prove your case, is interesting. Bernie at A+ , age 19, 930+ OPS. Melky at A and A+, age 19, in more ABs, a tick less than .800 OPS. So at the same age Bernie was dominating the level of competition, Melky not so much.

One final comment on [35}:

tick Michael gave Bernie three swings at AAA. After a poor first showing in AAA, he stuck him in AA for the full following season. If anything, Bernie shows exactly how development is supposed to go. Now imagine if the Yanks had stuck him in the majors at age 21 and left him there.

That is somewhat revisionist history. He didn't get three "real" swings at AAA. You are correct that after flailing in his first go around, Stick put him back in AAA. But his third turn had more to do with the old Yankee's Columbus Express and the Yankees historically impatient culture. What would have happened if Stick had just let Bernie stay at ML after he was called up in the middle of his age 22 season, instead of splitting his age 23 season between AAA and ML? I suspect very little difference. The last turn in AAA was a waste--essentially giving more ABs to Mel Hall and Roberto Kelly.

[37] Just that with a proper development, he could have been a fine .800 OPS (.350 OBP/.450 SLG) for CF then LF.

You might be right, though I think you too much faith that additional time in MiL would make a dramatic difference. You are correct, I think, that he never would have been Bernie 2.0, and that's why I am skeptical that he was ever destined to add 30 points of SLG at the ML level.

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