Finally, April is here and real baseball is nigh. Our beloved local nine takes the field in just three more days! As such, the Brewers and the other 29 teams are in the process of paring down their rosters to the final 25 players that they will begin the regular season with. For many players around the league that don't make the cut, however, this is a time of uncertainty that could mean moving on to a new organization.
One such player is outfielder Jake Cave, who was placed on waivers by the Reds yesterday. The Reds made Cave the second overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft this past December, selecting him after he was left unprotected by the Yankees. Cave was one of the top rated talents that was available in the Rule 5 Draft but the center fielder struggled at the plate this spring and managed only a .226/.317/.302 line in 53 at bats. Still, it's somewhat curious to me that the rebuilding Reds didn't at least give Cave a regular season look, instead of apparently settling on Jordan Pacheco for the final roster spot.
Perhaps Cincinnati's loss could be Milwaukee's gain. As a Rule 5 draftee Cave has to be placed on waivers to see if any team would be willing to take his rights on give him a 25 man roster spot before he can be offered back to his original team. The Brewers obviously have high priority on the waiver wire by virtue of their 94 loss season last year. If Cave were to happen to fall to them, he could perhaps be worth giving a look at.
The 23 year old was a sixth round draft pick by New York back in 2009 and he bats and throws left handed. He battled injuries early on but has been rather productive in his minor league career, batting .285/.346/.391 with 11 home runs and 47 stolen bases in 380 games. He was ranked as the Reds' 19th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline at the time he waived.
According to their profile of Cave, he figures to have well-below average power but should have an average hit tool. He's got above average speed and is a good defender in the outfield who is capable of playing all three spots. He's spent most of his time in center field, however, a position that is still unsettled for the Brewers heading into the regular season.
Cave had a decent season last year between AA and AAA, slashing a combined .278/.339/.359 over 132 games for a wRC+ of 102. Thirty-three of his 147 hits went for extra bases so as I've mentioned we probably should not expect much power, but he did steal 17 bases while getting caught only three times. He's got a decent eye at the plate and carries around an 8% career walk rate, and strikeouts haven't been a major issue for him at 19.7%.
The only issue would be finding a spot on the roster for Cave, which would likely mean the end of Kirk Nieuwenhuis' tenure in a Brewers uniform. He's had a decent spring and posted a .732 OPS, but at age 28 and coming off a season where he hit .195/.270/.375 with a 35% K rate in 141 plate appearances the upside there is limited. Kirk's presence at least raises the floor of what the center field spot could produce this year, but that's not important to a rebuilding club and he's not a long-term asset.
Cave on the other hand still has his full six seasons of club control remaining (vs. Nieuwenhuis' four). His realistic ceiling is probably that of a fourth outfielder, but at just 23 years old he's obviously got youth on his side. Slingin' Stearns has been active on the waiver wire since taking over as GM and the potential acquisition of Cave would represent another addition of young, controllable talent into the Brewers' system.
As a Rule 5 pick, the club would have to keep Cave on the active roster all year long or risk losing him as the Reds are about to. It's not like Cave would be taking up another important player's roster spot at this point, especially with the injury to the out-of-options Rymer Liriano. If Cave can't hack it in the big leagues then they can cut him loose and give another prospect a shot. At least the Brewers could take the opportunity to give him a look which would not cost them much of anything at all.
At this point the club is trying to stockpile as many potential future assets as possible, regardless of position. Jake Cave would fall into that category, so why not roll the dice and take a chance on him?
Oh, and there would be one more added benefit:
@brewerfan28 You just don't want to spell Nieuwenhuis all the time, and Jake Cave is much simpler to type.— Jason Paczkowski (@BrewersFanJP) March 31, 2016
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs