March 19, 2013
Out of Left Field
The More You Know
Nowadays, when we talk about Robinson Cano we talk about his next contract. A $200 million deal has been widely speculated (like here and here) and that’s certainly within the realm of possibility. While it’s an interesting topic, Cano has employed Scott Boras, so I’m guessing we’ll have lots of time to cover it, as an in-season extension with the Yankees seems unlikely.
Instead, I’m more curious as to where Cano came from. If what you’re thinking starts with his mommy and daddy had some wine then no. I mean in a prospect sense. Cano emerged an All-Star from what was widely thought to be a depleted farm system. He began his minor-league career at the age of 18 in 2001. He didn’t make the majors until 2005 so he had ample time to make a few top prospects lists on the way to the Show, but he never did. Well, that’s not entirely true. He was not listed on any of the Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects lists during his time in the minors, and never ranked first overall on the annual Yankees Top 10 list, like you might expect from a future franchise player. He was ranked second once, but given the general state of the Yankees system, nobody took him too seriously.
That’s the bio we always hear about. The moral of the story is scouting is hard. Guessing at a player’s future is very difficult and sometimes, for a variety of reasons, we all miss badly on a guy. I was thinking about this and how odd it is that Cano, this utterly unheralded prospect, this guy who the Yankees essentially traded as a throw-in*, has come to represent the future of the franchise.
*We can add two major league franchises to the list of those that underestimated Cano. In February of 2004 the Yankees stole Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers. In return for the best player in baseball at the time Texas received Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later. The player to be named later came from a list of five players the Yankees submitted to Texas. According to Baseball America, that list featured outfielder Rudy Guillen, shortstop Joaquin Arias, Robinson Cano, and pitcher Ramon Ramirez. The Rangers picked Arias. See? We weren’t the only ones to goof on Cano. The Yankees and Rangers did too.
I decided to go back into the Baseball Prospectus archives and see what we said about Cano way back when.
Cano wasn’t listed on the Baseball Prospectus Top 40 Prospects in either 2002 or 2003. The first mention of Cano that I can find comes in an article dated July 11, 2003 by David Cameron. The article was a preview of the MLB Futures game that was to be played later that week and it lays out an argument for watching the game and then places the players into four categories by talent. Cano pops up under the last category, titled “The Fringe Prospects.” At the time Cano was coming off a .276/.321/.445 showing in Single-A as a 19-year-old and in the midst of a season that would see him post a sub-.700 OPS split between High-A and Double-A. Cano isn’t mentioned in the short bit of explanatory text that follows (they are fringe prospects, after all) but Cameron did note something interesting when he wrote, “History tells us that one of these [fringe prospects] is going to make me look foolish in 15 years…” So he got that part right, though maybe a bit more quickly than he guessed.