Player Background
Though he’s 28 years old, Lorenzo Cain hasn’t played baseball as long as many of the guys in Double-A and Triple-A. As a child, his love was on the basketball court, but as a freshman in high school, he failed to make the team. That heartbreak pushed him onto the diamond, where he flourished… after many growing pains.

Anyway, read this magnificent article by Andy McCullough on Cain’s unlikely and uneven journey in baseball. He chronicles the story much better than I could hope to in this space. It was one of my favorite baseball reads of the year.

The Milwaukee Brewers selected Cain in the 17th round of the 2004 Draft. Kevin Goldstein (#RIPKevin) ranked him as the sixth-best prospect in the Brewers system heading into the 2009 season. Cain’s future changed dramatically in 2011, when the Brewers traded him to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke deal.

Since that point, Cain flashed tremendous potential at times, but largely struggled to remain healthy for an extended period. Whether it was an oblique, a groin, a hamstring, or a hip, the Florida native spent ample time on the disabled list in a Royals uniform. In fact, heading into the 2014 season, he had failed to amass more than 450 plate appearances in a big-league season.

What Went Wrong in 2014?
For fantasy purposes, it’s difficult to quibble with a 3-to-5 win season, in which he hit .301 with 28 stolen bases. Owners don’t garner points for defensive prowess, but Cain has also blossomed into a force in center field, which should help him retain playing time in the future should his bat slow down.

Several black marks appear on the overall resume, though.

The Royals continue to wait for Cain’s power potential to manifest itself in game action. Back in 2009, Kevin Goldstein noted that the Brewers hoped he’d be a 20-plus-homer guy someday, and Cain did clobber 16 long balls with Triple-A Omaha in 2011. However, the power has remained pedestrian, at best, at the big-league level. With only five homers and an uninspiring .110 ISO, there doesn’t seem to be much hope on the horizon in terms of power potential. He’ll be 29 years old. Cain has always developed later than most ballplayers due to his lack of overall experience in the game, but one has to assume the ship has sailed on that one.

Furthermore, the high batting average masked a decline in plate discipline. His walk rate plummeted from 7.5 percent in 2013—which is hardly anything to celebrate—to a measly 4.8 percent in 2014. That nosedive corresponded with an uptick in swinging-strike rate (from 7.9 percent to 10.9 percent, respectively) and a career-high 35.3 percent chase rate. In sum, Cain was swinging more often, chasing non-strikes more often, whiffing more often, and walking less. Even a .300-plus batting average can’t hide those concerning trends.

What Went Right in 2014?
A lot went right. Cain quickly rose to the top half of the Royals batting order, which resulted in more RBI than expected, but the main value stemmed from the 28 stolen bases and .301 batting average. Those drove him to a 29th-overall fantasy ranking amongst all outfielders. Considering the fact that he was routinely not being drafted in mixed leagues, such a performance was golden.

The batting average may have been bolstered by an unsustainable .380 BABIP; however, such an explanation ignores a couple important factors: (1) his speed, and (2) his ability to mash fastballs.

Cain’s speed and line-drive approach (he has never posted a line-drive rate below 21.8 percent as a Kansas City Royal) have helped compile high BABIPs throughout his career. The speed can be seen in his stolen base numbers, but also in his spectacular play in center field. In fact, he owns a career .345 BABIP and had a .366 BABIP in the most-recent season in which he accumulated more than 450 plate appearances.

Additionally, the 28-year-old displayed an ability to take advantage of fastballs at the plate. Guys who have swing-and-miss and are prone to chase, such as Cain, need to be able to capitalize on fastballs. The numbers illustrate just how well he accomplished that in 2014.

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It’s not uncommon to see a player have more success against fastballs than other categories of pitches, but that doesn’t make it less notable when the split is so large. Despite underwhelming plate discipline numbers, he was still able to capitalize on the hard stuff and hit over .300.

What To Expect in 2015?
His upcoming year is difficult to project for three separate reasons: (1) it’s unclear how much we should expect his BABIP to decline, (2) his spotty health history, and (3) his monster postseason could catapult him onto another level.

The BABIP should drop. It’s unreasonable to expect Lorenzo Cain to replicate a .380-BABIP season. However, he possesses the tools to remain a well-above-average BABIP hitter, due to his high propensity for line drives and the high-end speed. The current Steamer projections have him logging a .333 BABIP and hitting .269. While that fits into his overall career norms, there’s something about that batting average that feels low. He’ll have to overcome the plate discipline and it’s not exactly an opinion based upon statistical proof, but he’s built to be a high-average hitter in many ways. I’m much more comfortable projecting a .280-.290 batting average.

The injury history is what it is. He’s proven to be injury prone. Fantasy owners should expect Cain to hit the disabled list once or twice with nagging injuries. If he can eclipse the 500 PA mark once again, it would be a victory. After all, he hasn’t logged back-to-back 500 PA seasons since 2007-2008.

Finally, we have to deal with the amorphous and intangible confidence issue. He’s become a borderline star this October—partially due to his defense—and he also hit over .300 in August and September. If this proves to be a turning point of his career, we could be low-balling his expected performance. I’m more comfortable treating the postseason as an isolated small-sample-size situation. I’m simply aware that the possibility exists that we’re witnessing Cain’s breakout performance.

The Great Beyond
Cain feels like a dynamic, young prospect who is finally getting his feet under him, but he’s going to be 29 years old next season. Furthermore, his lack of plate discipline suggests he won’t age well once his natural athleticism begins to wane. That’s still a few years away. We’re just not looking at a perennial All-Star for the next 10-to-12 years.

Cain is a plus-defensive center fielder with speed and a high-average profile. That’s attractive for fantasy owners who need speed and don’t want to surrender the batting average, like one has to do with guys such as Everth Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio, or even Jean Segura. If he continues to bat in the upper half of the Royals batting order, too, his value only increases.

For the next couple years, Cain is a nice value play to round out a fantasy outfield. He bolsters the batting average and can add an above-average number of stolen bases and runs scored. Just don’t get too hyped up and overpay on draft day because the injury history doesn’t project to disappear as he ages. In fact, one would be reasonable to expect that to worsen.

Thank you for reading

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What are the odds that he goes full Brantley, or even half Brantley, next year? Seems vaguely similar.
I wouldn't project Cain to "pull a Brantley" next year, mostly due to the vast difference in plate discipline. Brantley is such a good hitter. I don't see that in Lorenzo Cain.