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April 25, 2006

Melky Reconsidered
by Fabian

It's still very early in the minor league season, and he has cooled off considerably as of late, 6 for his last 31 during Columbus' 8-game losing streak, but Melky Cabrera appears to be the most egregious placement on mine and many other Yankee prospect lists, with Pinstripes Plus being a notable exception.

Though I claim to be a fan of large sample size, it would appear that I let Melky’s brief trial in the majors as well as his unwarranted promotion to AAA cool me far too greatly on a player I’ve been a fan of since he was the starting CF for the Staten Island Yankees. I also fell victim to listening too much to the concerns others hold about Cabrera. The concerns about Melky are, primarily, that he doesn’t have the defense to stick in CF as he ages and doesn’t have the power to play a corner. Instead of just taking this in, I should have paid greater attention to certain pieces of information.

For one, despite all the apparent concerns scout-types have about Melky’s defense, Eastern League managers voted him the league’s top defensive OF during the 2005 season. Additionally, according to Baseball Prospectus’ minor league defensive numbers (Yes, I know many of you have a problem with their major league numbers, but their minor league ones are the most freely available advanced defensive metrics for that level) Melky was an above average defender in CF last year. None of this is to say that Melky will necessarily be a standout defender or even above average one when he gets older, but just to say that there is a chance he has some time to decline to average, which might not be the impression you would have received otherwise.

As for Melky’s lack of power…when his defense gets to the point where he will need to be a COF, whenever that may be, his power should have naturally developed more from where it is now. However, let’s say it doesn’t. Based on a glance through the statistics, for a COF to be average in the AL over the last few years they should post an OBP around .340 and SLG around .440. In 1403 minor league at bats, Melky has hit .287, so let’s make him a .280 hitter in the majors. The last two years, Melky’s OBP has been .048 above his BA, so let’s give him a .330 OBP. Lastly, his last two year of isolated slugging have been .142 and .133 so let’s give him .140 (I like round numbers), which gives him a SLG of .420. If you have a COF hitting .280/.330/.420, you’re getting below average offensive production, however, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to add in some above average defense considering he is moving from CF. With all that, it’s not ridiculous to think that perhaps he can be a league average COF, which is nothing to call home about, but at the same time, a far enough cry from 4th OF at best, or “suck[ing]”.

Yes, I’ve made a lot of assumptions in this little experiment, but I don’t think any of them are so far off base to be unreasonable. The point I’m making is not that Melky Cabrera’s hot start is a sign of his talent level or that he is a star in the making, just that perhaps one too many people, myself included, got caught up in his poor ML debut. We looked at what Melky couldn’t do, or at least couldn’t excel at, rather than what he could.