How Cano Went From Good To Great

The Game Changer
Open Thread: "We are the casino"
Someone's got a secret. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Just before the playoffs began, the Yankees took what seemed to be the inevitable step of installing Robinson Cano as their new number three hitter. Mark Teixeira just wasn’t cutting it against right-handed hitters, and Cano was one of the team’s top two offensive players for the second straight season. The move was made and it paid immediate dividends in Game One of the ALDS. Robbie had two doubles and a grand slam in the rout of Detroit, but the funny thing is that Cano never projected to be this type of hitter when he was in the minors.

In an Insider-only piece for ESPN today, Kevin Goldstein wrote about Cano and his transformation from a good prospect to a great big leaguer (if you have a Baseball Prospectus subscription, you can read the article here). The Yankees signed Cano out of the Dominican Republic way back in January of 2001, giving him just a $100k bonus. That’s less than half what they gave Dioner Navarro one year earlier, and Yanks VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman explained that not even the Yankees expected Robbie to be this good.

“He wasn’t the highest-profile player by any stretch of the imagination,” said Newman to Goldstein. “He was a shortstop, but he couldn’t run; he was even a 40 (on a grading scale of 40-80) back then, so there was just nothing flashy about him. But we liked his bat, especially his hands, and so he had the one tool that trumps all others.”

Cano never cracked Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, and it wasn’t until he was on the cusp of big leagues that he even garnered a top two spot in the Yankees farm system (I thought he was the team’s best prospect before 2005, but no one asked me). Cano hit .301/.356/.497 in half a season at Double-A in 2004 before a second half promotion to Triple-A, and he was hitting .333/.368/.574 in 24 games with Columbus before being called up to replace the oh so terrible Tony Womack in 2005. He showed the same skills he shows now (insane amounts of contact, few walks, gap power to all fields), just not as refined.

Goldstein asked Newman and various anonymous scouts about what helped Cano take that next step. “I’d love to point to some obvious change in his swing or approach, but when you ask me how he [turned] into the player today, it’s just hard work,” said one scout. Newman backed that up, adding that his upbringing may have also played a role in his development. Cano’s father Jose played in the big leagues, albeit briefly, and we heard all about their relationship during the Homerun Derby. Robbie and Jose still work out together in the offseason, so you can only imagine what they did before Cano established himself as one of the game’s best.

A few weeks ago I said I would like to see the Yankees sign Cano long-term this offseason, something like five years with an option even though they hold club options for his services through 2013. Regardless of whether they do that or not, Robinson has clearly gone from prospect afterthought to homegrown superstar, and is now the central focus of the team’s lineup. Talent is obviously part of it, but hard work also helped Cano take that step, a step that has sure been fun to watch.

email
The Game Changer
Open Thread: "We are the casino"
  • maeby

    Seriously, greatest picture ever.

  • Darren

    From day 1 Robbie exploded and no one seemed to have any idea of how good he was gonna be. But jsut because, I’ll give Donnie Baseball some credit in helping him. Why? Why not.

    • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

      Don’t you still get the feeling that he hasn’t hit his peak yet too?? To me, it seems like theres still potential in there, and if he ever fully unleashes it….look out.

  • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

    Meanwhile, A-Rod is slowly becoming mid-2000’s Jason Giambi.

    • pat

      .263/.410/.525 from 02-07. Where do I sign up for that?

      • radnom

        Arods rate stats are still decent – the complaint is about the consistent missing of time due to injuries. Giambi was less value than that slash line would indicate because over that period he missed HUGE stretches where an otherwise backup player had to take those at bats instead.

        Giambi was decent in his time here, but you’re presenting a very biased argument here.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    “I’d love to point to some obvious change in his swing or approach, but when you ask me how he [turned] into the player today, it’s just hard work,” said one scout.

    Woah woah woah…this can’t be true. This is clearly bullshit from that propaganda outlet known as BP, Robinson Cano is a lazy Dominican fuck that never tries hard, is lazy in the field, and relies on his natural ability instead of refined skills as a ball player. You want a player who got where he is from hard work? Dustin Pedroia is your guy. Everyone told him he couldn’t do shit but he got to where he is by always being the first guy at the ballpark and the last guy to leave. Robinson Cano works hard? Pft. Next you’ll tell me that the Boston Red Sox like to get hammered in between games instead of taking ground balls after hours and from 6:45 in the morning until game time

    • http://Twitter.com/Jmarlowescully Scully

      The Red Sox have been eliminated. You can calm down now.

      • BigDavey88

        *woosh*

        • radnom

          I think the “woosh” should be applied to you instead, tbh. I see no indication to believe Scully didn’t get the joke and I completely agree with him.

    • Daniel Stromgren

      So a) Your a racist because what exactly does his being Dominican have to do with playing baseball…the answer for people like you who are slower than the rest of us is nothing….and b) Pedroia is arrogant, small and will have short-lived career with slightly better than average numbers. And uhhh, the Sox getting hammered before games is kinda fact…even if your jealous that you have to work for a living. 5-20 in September and not a play-off team, but in your world it has to be someone else’s fault. Let me ask you…does being Dominican make Ortiz lazy…or are you just a dumb Mick from Boston (and I’m Irish…so save it). Racism is a sad existence…so is being a Sox fan. Short of a brain injury it appears your parents did something to piss God off.

      • http://twitter.com/AnaMariana42 Ana

        someone’s sarcasm detector is damaged beyond repair

      • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

        You must not post here enough to recognize blatant sarcasm.

        His satire was on MSM’s view of idolizing Pedroia over Cano.

        He is clearly a Cano supporter fed up with MSM’s glorification of a small white guy

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Why does Eduardo Nuñez look like he should be a chaperone at a high school dance? Seriously, the dude’s 24 yet he looks closer to 44. Got an old face.

    • ash

      24 in Dominican years -_-

  • Bean Tooth

    Hard work? I thought he was lazy. I thought he didn’t have the fire in the belly of a Pedroia. I’ve never once seen him hop before a play. Don’t tell me he’s gritty or I just won’t know what to believe anymore.

  • Sam marsonek is on it

    Pedroia is a midget

    • Dennis

      Sir that’s offensive. The correct term is garden gnome.

    • YankFanInSawxLand

      Gritty Smurf actually

    • YankFanInSawxLand

      Gritty Smurf, actually

      • Yank The Frank

        Lawn Jockey

  • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

    Sign the man to a long term deal. He’s earned it.

    • Dennis

      6/110m.

      • Guest

        After what Crawford got last year? To play left field?

        That would be a ludicrous hometown discount.

        I think Robbie gets at least 8/160 when he hits the market two years from now…so if the Yanks want to sign him now, there’going to have do better than 6/110.

        • vin

          The whole idea behind extending a player already under contract is that the team assumes some risk (ie adding years and dollars when they don’t have to) so that they can retain the player for below a free agent market contract.

          6/110 sounds about right to me, especially if they rip up the remaining 2 club options on his current deal and start the new contract next year.

          • Daniel Stromgren

            I agree…6/110 with a club option at 15 for the 7th year.

  • Supernova

    Robbie Cano dontcha know will be the next el capitan. He’s currently the best player on the team and will eventually have his number retired by the Yankees. All star, gold glove, batting title, HR Derby Champ, Hall of Fame. Robbie has already acheived some of these great things and will have them all someday.

    • gc

      I don’t think the Yankees will name another Captain for some time after Jeter retires. Being the best player on the team doesn’t seem to be the sole requirement.

    • Plank

      He’s a great player and a good bet to be the best player on the Yankees for a few years. The problem is that second basemen tend to fall off the cliff in their early 30s. If I were the Yankees, I would exercise the two options then deal with him in Free Agency. If I were Robbie or his agent, I would try to get the big payday now.

      As an objective observer, I think he should be paid a boatload of money. He is a huge cog in the Yankees machine and should be paid accordingly.

  • Monteroisdinero

    “But we liked his bat, especially his hands” Interesting comment.

    • ash

      haha lmao.

  • jerrynyg

    I am glad to see an article that recognizes reality… Cano has some good natural skills, but not freakish athleticism that precludes the necessity to work hard.

    He is a hard working guy with a good baseball background who seems reasonably intelligent. He deserves his success because he has worked for it and he hasn’t done anything obviously criminal or dirt-baggy to drag his or the organization’s name down.

    In short, this is the kind of player a team is lucky to have. LOCK HIM UP NOW!!!! And, not for nothing, but the Cano is lazy narrative needs to go.

    • Billion$Bullpen

      “who seems reasonably intelligent”

      Not so sure about this one. Robbie obviously works very hard on his hitting but still needs to improve the amount of at bats he throws away. He has the talent to possibly be the best hitter in baseball. His work in the field has gotten better and I am sure that is from hard work and experience.

      With all that said and all jokes aside he still is horrible on the bases (not Posada / Wade Boggs horrible but still horrible none the less)but his lack of understanding that if you run to first you will get more hits thing is just dumb. I think it is more him trying to be cool than true apathy, and that in fact makes him quite dumb. And spare me the whole ethnic angle, as that is tired and its easy to knock down an argument that is valid by claiming some kind of horrible illogical bias.

      Cano will NEVER be a captain on the Yanks because he does not “get it” and most likely never will. You may see what is there and be happy about it, but a lot of us baseball fans see what could be there if he put it all together because obviously he has huge talent and the ability to work hard and have success in two very difficult things on the diamond. Why not run hard? Worried about not being the cool guy seems to be the reason, and that is lame and tired.

      • Kevin D.

        no.

  • Jesus Freak

    Today’s tabloid cover is fantastic:

    http://www.nypost.com/rw/nypos.....100511.jpg

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      Ha!

  • I’m dominican. genetically gifted.

    It’s in the blood.

  • Darren

    If he could only cut out the posing every time he hits anything to the outfield, and the jogging (instead of running) to first on grounders, that would be a very nice improvement.

  • Cam

    After he hit that slam in game 1 I immediately started thinking about who it was he replaced when he came up, because I had never heard of him until they did (didn’t start paying too much attention to prospects until RAB). Tony Womack! Shit, I wonder what he’s up to these days?

    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      Tony is running a non-profit in Arizona that helps underprivileged kids learn to read…

      • Eric Solomon

        Seriously? That is awesome…newfound respect for the man.

      • Cam

        Yeah, definitely if that’s true.

  • FachoinaNYY

    Its amazing to look at the perception of Cano over the course of his career.

    Came up out of no where, dominated, was anointed Jeter’s successor as captain, etc.

    Struggled, people called him lazy, etc.

    Since 09 he has come back and seemed to regain his pre-struggle status as the heir apparent as captain, etc.

    Kinda amazing. Love this guy, can’t wait to see how good this guy can become.

  • Avi

    Interesting to note that some of the Yankees best homegrown players never cracked Baseball America’s top 100. Cano, Pettitte, Mariano, Posada.

    • FachoinaNYY

      I may be wrong but didn’t the whole prospect ranking (and obsessing) thing not really catch on in earnest until after they came up?

      I get the impression that if Mo, Andy and Posada were coming up today people would be ALL over them.

      Again might just be my misconception.

      • FachoinaNYY

        Looking at their minor league numbers I think people would have been salivating over Mo/Andy as their minor league numbers were pretty incredible, maybe not as much with Posada, but he certainly would have been on the radar as a hitting catcher.

    • Avi

      I’m sorry. Pettitte was #49 in BA’s top 100 in ’95

  • Jimmy

    He turned the corner when they got Bobby “Bad Influence” Abreu away from him. And to just keep him honest, they whacked good buddy Melky a year later. During his next slump, Nunez better be nervous.

    • FachoinaNYY

      Hahaha very interesting as Nunez seems like a likely trade candidate…

  • Mickey Scheister

    I’m so glad the Tony Womack experiment failed. Enter: Cano

  • Avi

    Can we get Jose Cano to work with Tex?

    • Mickey Scheister

      Tex needs to start laying a bunt down the third base line to keep the other teams defense honest, then he will be partially fixed. Hes always lining or grounding out right into the teeth of the shift. There’s been far better players that have bunted in that scenario. IMHO.

      The other half of Tex is how god awful he is on the offspeed pitch.

      • Billion$Bullpen

        There is nobody on this team that drives me crazier than Tex. The dumb face he makes at the plate coupled with his inability to keep the defense honest, to the ugliness of his swing. I knew he would not age well with that horribly long contract but man he needs to really spend the offseason rebuilding his swing.

  • Avi

    Cano might be better than Jeter was in his prime.

    • FachoinaNYY

      As a pure hitter? I think Cano has more raw talent, but Jeter did more with what he had, which admitted was a lot in his own right.

      Cano has an unbelievably easy and consistent swing. If he could get his OBP skills to increase he would get even more pitches to hammer. Hopefully this is the next facet of Cano’s game we get to see develop: Better selectivity and higher OBP.

  • alphachef1

    it should also be noted that cano was nearly traded twice. once for beltran, another for the big unit. cano was rejected as part of the unit-package. talk about interesting facts…

  • Monteroisdinero

    He is tremendous and our best hitter (for a few more years). lol

    To nitpick: He could be a better baserunner with his head in the game a bit more.
    He could hustle down the line more a la Nunez/Gardner/Jeter (Cano and Swish both dog it)
    He could improve his dives to reach ground balls to his right. He has already improved going to his left but I think he is still a bit lazy going to his right on grounders.
    He could walk and/or work the count more than he has this year.

  • mike

    Robbie and Melky were out basically every night in NYC and BX/Queens at certain Latin clubs…..everyone knew who they were, and their “standards” were not that high either :).

    Exit Melky….Robbie matures a little more because he loses his running partner…

    This happens in all stages of personal/professional life, and no surprise that the breaking up of them ( while it never appeared they were bad guys or disrespectful to anyone) allowed Robbie to focus a little more on his profession

    • FachoinaNYY

      You could chalk the going out a lot when he was younger as being a young, inexperienced person with money in NYC.

      He seems to be much more of a professional now, than he did several years ago.

      Seems like he just needed to grow up a bit and realize that he has the potential for a very, very special career if he actually works on it and doesn’t just rely on his natural talents.

      I really think the changes in Cano can be attributed to his maturation and increased focus on working on his game (thanks should also go to Arod for this it should be noted).

    • Thomas Tu

      Man, it’s funny to see you write that Cano had low standards back then. He’s definitely raised his standards in recent years.

  • FachoinaNYY

    Offtopic: How would everyone feel about perusing Mark Buehrle this off-season? I would assume the commitment would be much less than C.J. Wilson in terms of years and money and I think for the next 2-3 years he could put up comparable numbers.

    Guy is a horse and consistently eats innings, plus is lefty.

    I hope the Yankees look into this guy heavily in the off-season. Would like to see him sign 2/28 or 3/36.

    Thoughts?

    • FachoinaNYY

      pursuing* not perusing in the first sentence.

    • Billion$Bullpen

      i too have been thinking about this

      2@28 would be great but unlikely i think