The Kansas City Royals would love to have Lorenzo Cain‘s bat in the bottom third of their batting order every day. He offers a nice mix of good speed and decent line drive power, and he could really strengthen the Royals line-up toward the bottom. If he can stay healthy.
Lorenzo Cain has shown enough skills at the major league level to encourage the Royals he can be a productive player. Cain’s biggest impediment to getting the playing time he needs to succeed has been his health. He was limited to only 61 games in 2012 due to a myriad of leg injuries. He has already suffered a hand injury this spring which caused him to miss several early games. The Royals want to rely on him but until he can prove himself not to be chronically injury prone, it will be difficult for Kansas City not to feel a bit nervous.
Cain turns 27 in April and can no longer be considered a prospect. He has played some in each of the last 3 seasons, getting into 110 games and accumulating 425 plate appearances over those seasons. Although the sampling is still relatively small, there are some good indicators which point to Cain being a productive player when he is on the field. He is not predominately a fly ball hitter, so his career BABIP is a little higher than would be expected at .340. This is driven up by a career line drive rate of 21%. Hopefully he can maintain those numbers over a full season, if he make it through without serious injury. Both his Walk Rate (6%) and his Contact rate (75%) are slightly below average, but not horrible by any stretch. Considering his age, there is hope both of these numbers could improve with experience.
Baseball-reference.com does a cool thing where they extrapolate career numbers into a 162 game season average (if a player were to play 162 games every season). His numbers accumulated thus far translated into a 162-game season like this: .281./327/.412/.739, with 12 home runs, 31 doubles, 45 RBI, 48 runs scored, and 25 stolen bases. For a young player, these numbers are actually quite good. Unfortunately, Cain can’t be deemed young any longer. That being said, age 27 is considered the beginning of most hitters’ prime years. It is not without hope that Cain can take a nice step forward in 2013.
Some things jump out when one looks at Cain’s extrapolated numbers. One is the 31 doubles. For a player with a higher than average LD% like Cain has, 30 plus doubles is a good expectation. If you have a guy in the bottom third of the order hitting 30 doubles, he is going to get the chance to drive in some runs. That will also put him in scoring position for guys at the top of the order, as will his steals. In the case of the Royals, this could set up RBI chances for one of Kansas City’s best hitters, Alex Gordon, who is slated to bat lead off. Cain is not only his fast, but he is a could base runner, as is indicated by the fact he has been successful 17 times in his 18 stolen base attempts thus far in his career.
Include Lorenzo Cain’s solid defense in his value. With Cain in center and Gordon in left, the Royals boast two strong outfielders. Defensive metrics didn’t particularly like the Royals defense in 2012. Having Cain in center every day is bound to improve the team’s overall defensive performance for 2013. The Royals have some fly ball pitchers on the staff now, so having a solid defender tracking balls down in center will be a big plus no matter how you calculate it.
There are a lot of things to like about a healthy Lorenzo Cain. At his age, with some good exposure to major league pitching under his belt, he has to be considered a break out candidate for the 2013 season. His BB% and Contact% indicate he does have a clue as to what he is doing at the plate, and there is plenty of room for improvement. His base running and defense are certainly above average skills. His line drive numbers lead to the belief that he can be a very productive hitter in the bottom third of the order. In the incredibly unscientific eye test, he seems to hit the ball hard when he makes contact. All of these things could lead to that break out season for Cain. If he can stay healthy, his bat and glove could make a big difference in this team on an every day basis. Let’s hope the injury bug stays away.