The Rule 5 draft is always kind exciting to me because of its all-or-nothing nature. Trading for prospects can be anti-climactic if they’re far away from the majors, but taking a player in the Rule 5 draft means that he has to stay on the big league roster for the entire season, or be returned to the team that he was drafted from.
The Reds selected Yankee’s minor league outfielder Jake Cave with the second pick in this year’s Rule 5 draft, and I think he has a good chance at sticking with the team as a bench player.
Jake is a lefty and he’s 22 years old. He’s not particularly big (6’0” tall) and not particularly small (200 LBs). He was drafted out of high school in the 6th round of the 2011 draft, and decided he liked the sound of starting his career and an $800k signing bonus more than playing college ball at LSU. He got right to it that year in the Gulf Coast rookie league, but sadly he broke his knee cap in his first professional game and missed the rest of the rookie league season.
He didn’t end up starting his pro career in earnest until 2013 because his knee didn’t heal well, and he missed the entire 2012 season too. In the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons he played across all three levels of the minors and put together a pretty solid .285/.346/.391 career line. However, 2015 was a bit of a down year for him, and his .269/.330/.345 line in AA probably played a large part in the Yankees leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 draft at all. He’s struck out in 19.6 percent of his plate appearances so far, which is probably too high for him to ever have a ton of success with his level of power. He does have a decent 7.7 percent walk rate though, which certainly makes him a viable bench guy.
The Eyeball Test
There are lots of videos of Cave out there (here’s a good one), and I went through a fair amount of them today. What I see is a guy who’s pretty good at a lot of things, and great at none. His swing isn’t pretty, but it’s short, and he makes solid contact with the ball. Unless something dramatic changes, he will never hit many home runs (He’s got 11 total in 380 games, so I’d project him for maybe 5 in a full season), but he’s also not a pure slap hitter, and has had 33 or more extra-base hits in each of his 3 full minor league seasons.
He has played mostly center field thus far, but he doesn’t look like a natural there. The Yankees apparently had to have a talk with him about laying out for balls he had not chance at catching, and for taking terrible routes to the ball. He’s gotten better at that, and he’s got decent enough speed to cover center field adequately, but I imagine the Reds see him as a guy that will play all three outfield spots. He’s got a very strong arm, and was seen by some teams as a better pitcher in high school than position player (topping out at 94 MPH his senior year).
Every single article I’ve read about Jake Cave today mentioned his great attitude. I think teams, and especially the Reds, can make too much of a player’s attitude and make up, but for a player like Cave I think it can make a difference. He doesn’t really have the physical gifts or natural talent to be an everyday big league player, but he’s not that far off. A bench role probably makes sense for him, and bench guys need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, but not upset if they don’t play for a month. It’s a tough gig, and I imagine it takes a really good attitude to do it well.
You never know, maybe something clicks with his swing mechanics and he develops more power, or Votto gets in his ear and he becomes an on-base machine. I doubt it, but given the Reds’ bench the last few years, a guy that can capably cover the outfield, carry a .330 OBP, and chip in the occasional double would be a welcome addition, and certainly not a risk to lose his job. The Reds have all six years of team control, so hopefully we’ll be watching him man the outfield at GABP for some time.
Welcome to the team kid!