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Melky Cabrera: The Next Barry Bonds?

April 23, 2009

The forgotten man in the Yankees outfield has really roared into the picture this week. After getting only two starts in the season’s first eight games Melky Cabrera has found himself in a position to take advantage of the injuries to Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui. In his last twelve at bats, Melky has four homeruns, including his pair of jacks today (one of which was a 14th inning walk-off). This is a man who hit 8 homeruns in each of 2007 and 2008, in 545 and 414 at bats each of those years, respectively.

melky Power surges aren’t anything new to him; he hit five homeruns last April in 87 at bats. Not quite what we’ve seen from him this week, but after witnessing that last year I was convinced he had found his power stroke and would develop into a 20 homer center fielder. I had since not only jumped off of that bandwagon, but after the way he hit the rest of the season I hijacked and derailed the wagon completely Melky will probably never develop that kind of power, but even as is he’s a plus defensive outfielder with a very good arm.

If he can maintain even a portion of the power he has shown in brief stretches then he could be a starting caliber player. His on-base skills are abysmal, but if he could manage a .280 batting average than he could be an at least average center field bat.

The combination of Melky and Brett Gardner is hardly a spectacular tandem, and as it stands is probably a below average coupling. But take note, both are under 27 years old (Gardner is, at 26, a year older than Cabrera), and both are athletic defenders whose skills complement well. In one, the other, or both, the Yankees will be fine in center this season, and when Austin Jackson is ready (perhaps next Spring) the pair can perhaps replace Johnny Damon in left field, though neither of their bats play nearly as well for a corner spot.

Gardner is off to a rather slow start, so it is very encouraging to see some offense from Cabrera, who will likely find himself starting in center more and more if he keeps up the hitting, the same way Swisher kept himself in the lineup with his hot stretch even before Nady went down. It may not seem exciting to have a player whose peak is probably along the lines of .290/.350/.420 but I for one would be thrilled if Melky could put up a respectable line like that in center field this season.

By the way, Xavier Nady will not be undergoing Tommy John surgery (yet); he doesn’t have a full tear in his elbow, but rather a sprain, or partial tear. He’s going to rehab the injury and try and get back in as soon as a month (according to him) but hopefully within two months.

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