Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Melky Cabrera=Alex Rios?

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus ranks Melky as a potential breakout this year:

Cabrera went backwards in ’07, but not by enough for concern. Remember that he is just 23 years old and has more than 1100 plate appearances in the majors, with average to average-plus defense (good physical tools, but very raw, takes bad routes) and a very good 129/96 K/BB. He is a mature player offensively, patient at the plate and fair on the bases (25-for-35 stealing in his career). One interesting quirk is his G/F ratio, which is 1.63 for his career and was a whopping 1.81 last season. Cabrera is listed at 5’11” and 200 pounds. He’s not Willy Taveras, but rather a player who should be developing power and learning how to drive the ball, rather than hitting the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time.

I’m reminded of Alex Rios, who doesn’t look a thing like Cabrera. Rios was largely disappointing in 2004 and 2005, hitting just 11 homers in more than 900 at-bats, with an isolated power of 117. The problem: Rios was hitting the ball on the ground too much, a 1.82 G/F in those two seasons. Starting in ’06, Rios put the ball in the air more than half the time, and became a star. When you look at Cabrera’s body, his established control of the strike zone, and his ability to hold his own at a young age, you recognize that all it’s going to take is for him to start elevating the ball. Cabrera may not get there in 2008, but he’s going to pop 80 extra-base hits and slug .500 in a season very, very soon.

I'm not sure I buy this. Okay, the stats are similar, but the difference is that Rios has a lot more power potential. Melky, as Sheehan mentioned, is small (5'11'', 200 according to Sheehan, 170 according to Baseball-Reference). Rios is 6'4 and 194. He's not much heavier, but overall he is bigger. Plus, Rios has room to fill out his frame, while Melky isn't getting much bigger.

Sheehan could be right, and if he is I would be elated. I think people underrate Melky. I think he could be a productive MLB hitter, but not as good as Rios. His production will come mostly from his OBP and not his SLG.