In 2019, Jake Cave probably became great friends with the gate agents at the Rochester airport. He made numerous trips back-and-forth between the Rochester Red Wings and the Minnesota Twins, as he was an unfortunate pawn in a big-league roster crunch. While the MLB has since added a 26th man to the Major League roster for the Twins, Cave may once again be the odd man out. As profiled here on Twinkie Town by Cooper Carlson, the battle for the final roster on Opening Day will be a fierce one. If Cave is once again sent to meet his friends at the Rochester airport, it won’t be because he isn’t capable, as his time in the MLB has proven that he can be a quality MLB player.
Not only did Jake Cave rack up some frequent flyer miles on his excursions to Triple-A and back, his on-field production was also very Jekyll and Hyde. In his first 29 games with the Twins in 2019, Cave hit a paltry .176 and posted an OPS of .542. From that point forward, Cave became a much more effective hitter, batting .306 and posting an OPS of .964. Despite the slow start to the season, Cave’s numbers across the board were above average, as his .805 OPS registered an OPS+ of 112 (league average is 100).
One of Cave’s strengths is also his ability to play all three outfield positions and provide a steady defensive presence. He finished at a total of 2 outs above average (OAA) as measured by Statcast, and he completed his defensive tasks at a 91% rate vs. an 89% expected rate. While that’s certainly not Byron Buxton’s level of outfield play (12 OAA, +5%), it is far more effective than the season Eddie Rosario had in the outfield (-17 OAA, -7%). Cave’s ability to effectively play defense across the outfield will greatly benefit his case to make the Twins.
The Good, The Bad, and The Strikeout Rate
While Cave’s traditional statistics portray an already-effective player, a look into his peripherals provides some further reasons for hope. Let’s take look below at how he stacks up against the MLB averages:
Cave: 90.5 MPH
MLB: 87.5 MPH
Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA)
Hard Hit Percentage
As you can see above, Cave has the ability to hit the ball with authority on a consistent basis. While one would think that would lead to the ball heading over the fence more often, Cave only hit fly balls at a rate of 18.0% (league average 22.0%) and averaged a launch angle of 7.4 degrees (league average 11.2 degrees). When Cave got the ball in the air, he posted a HR/FB rate of 28.6%, which was only topped on the Twins by Miguel Sano, Nelson Cruz, and Mitch Garver.
Cave does have some red flags, most of which have to do with his strikeout rate. In 2019, Cave struck out at a staggering rate of 31.1% (league average 21.7%), which is actually in line with his career rate of 32.2%. Only Miguel Sano and Jason Castro posted higher strikeout rates on the Twins in 2019. On top of a high strikeout rate, Cave has significant platoon splits. Over the course of his career, Cave has posted an OPS of .821 against right-handed pitchers, and an OPS of .706 against left-handed pitchers.
Will Cave Make the Cut?
While Cave’s overall profile seems to make him a fit for the big leagues, he has some detractors working against him making the final cut out of spring training. First, he has serious competition for the final spot. Due to the new MLB rules, the Twins will have 4 hitters on their bench. Newly-acquired Alex Avila and utility man Marwin Gonzalez are locks to make the roster, leaving two spots for some combination of Cave, Ehire Adrianza, fan-favorite Willians Astudillo, and LaMonte Wade, Jr. Another thing that hinders Cave is that he sort of provides redundancy off the bench. Two of the three starting outfielders are left-handed batters, and the third is a generationally-talented defender. Adrianza and Astudillo can provide more positional flexibility within the infield, specifically with Adrianza having the ability to play shortstop. One further detracting factor is that Cave has a minor-league option available, something that Adrianza doesn’t have available. It remains to be seen if Cave will make the Twins, but he certainly provides a valuable option.