The road to Major League Baseball was a long and winding one for Jake Cave. Before emerging as a reserve outfielder and power hitter with the Minnesota Twins, Cave spent years in the New York Yankees farm system — from which he was selected and subsequently returned by the Cincinnati Reds as a Rule 5 draft pick in 2016 — but never got a shot to establish himself as a major leaguer.
But a March 16, 2018 trade changed the trajectory of Cave’s career when the Twins acquired him from the Yankees for a minor-league pitcher. Just two months later, the Hampton, Virginia native made his MLB debut, and in such, knocked a mammoth home run for his first big-league hit.
“That was the coolest thing. To be able to get [my first hit] as a home run was something I never imagined, ” Cave said in a phone conversation last week. “It’s something that I’ll never forget.”
It’s easy to tell that Cave hasn’t taken his MLB time for granted. As someone who battled through the minor leagues just to get to this point, the 26-year-old is appreciative of every chance he gets in a big-league batter’s box. “I don’t have any statistical goals, because I don’t know what my playing time is going to look like. With that being said, my goal is just to be as consistent as possible with everything I do before the games start,” Cave says.
“Even when I’m not playing, I wanna make sure that my routine is as consistent as possible, and that my strength and conditioning programs remain the same, so that when I can get out there, I don’t have to worry about anything affecting me negatively.”Hard work and consistency has allowed @Twins outfielder @JakeCave8 to establish himself as an @MLB regular. Cave talks to @bytomdorsa in this exclusive feature.Click To Tweet
Cave made good use of his playing time in 2018. In 91 games the lefty batted .269/.316/.481 with 13 home runs, 45 RBIs, 17 doubles, and a 114 OPS+. That power-hitting turn is a function of his increased strength and a change of hitting approach. “I was just working hard on taking advantage of my pitches and counts that I need to be taking advantage of,” says Cave. “I always knew that I had some power in high school and in batting practice, but that doesn’t always translate over into professional baseball, so I just worked my butt off, got stronger, and put into play what I can do in batting practice.”
“It was more so an approach thing than a mechanical thing. When I get more opportunities for at-bats, I’m hoping that the power still shows.” Last season Cave led all MLB hitters in average distance per home run with his 13 bombs measuring out to a median length of 421 feet.
Cave broke through 2019 spring training on a major-league roster for the first time in his career. “I felt like I deserved a shot with the Yankees but I never got it. I’m grateful that the Twins gave me that opportunity and to be able to break camp on a big-league roster this year is definitely something that I’ve always wanted to accomplish.”
In limited action so far this season (34 plate appearances), Cave is hitting .233 with three RBIs and a much improved strikeout/walk ratio (four walks, six strikeouts compared to 18 walks, 105 strikeouts last season).
Regardless, he is accepting of his role as a fourth-man on a team with one of the best outfield units in baseball with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler manning the outfield grass in Minneapolis.
“I can only control what I can control. I go to the field every day, I put my work in. I haven’t really had much of a chance to play this year, but I’ve had a couple of nights where I come in and get an RBI. I’m really just trying to show the organization that I’m ready to go,” Cave says.
“Personally, I think what I did last year shows that I can play and produce at the big-league level,” he continued, “but the way the roster is right now, I can’t really control that, but when I get the chance to play all I can do is play as hard as I can.”
That stacked roster is a runoff factor of the Twins’ commitment to winning in spite of other American Central opponents going into a full rebuild mode. Minnesota signed veterans like utility man Marwin Gonzalez, slugger Nelson Cruz, and infielder Jonathan Schoop in the offseason to enhance a young and already capable roster, which indicates a desire to compete for a division title.
“We’re going out there and winning ball games. We have a really good squad, everybody is playing well. It isn’t like one guy is doing crazy stuff, it’s more so everybody, one through nine in the order, is playing well. And pitchers are coming in and getting outs when they need to,” Cave says. “Winning is always more fun, obviously, so it’s fun to be on a team where everyone is committed to winning.”
Cave’s skill set adjusted well to the major leagues, but as is the case with everyone, the rangy outfielder noticed the massive leap above minor-league competition in skill possessed by major leaguers.
“In the minor leagues, you play really good players, everybody is good, everybody is a professional baseball player. The best players on high school and college teams aren’t always good enough to even make into professional baseball, so everybody’s good. But, I noticed that step when you get to the big leagues that there’s just another level. If pitchers aren’t throwing as hard as others, then he’s doing something else well; the ball is moving more or he’s doing something funky with his wind-up,” he says.
“Certain balls that are hits in the minor leagues are not anymore because guys have more range or stronger arms. There’s just that one step above that really separates the big-league players from the minor-league players, and it’s pretty cool to see.”
One of the biggest keys to Cave’s success early in his tenure with the Twins is the laid-back attitude of the organization compared to the Yankees, who originally drafted him in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB Draft.
“There’s differences, but there’s similarities as well. Coming up through the minor leagues, I could tell a little bit of a difference with the way that you’re expected to go about doing things. The Yankees are all about ‘hustle, play hard, do things the right way,’ and then the Twins, they want guys to have fun. Of course, [the Twins] have brought those commitments over, but I can tell a big difference between the clubhouses now, guys are having fun and are excited to come to the field. I’m just really happy to be a part of that.”
For now, Cave is just taking things day by day and helping the team where he can. The Twins sit at 13-7 and in first place in the AL Central, a game and a half up on the Cleveland Indians.
“I wanna win a World Series. I think we have a really good team, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t win this division, and if that happens, we’re gonna work hard in the playoffs and make a run for it all.”
NOTE: On Wednesday morning, Cave was optioned to Triple-A Rochester to accommodate the recall of pitchers Kohl Stewart and Fernando Romero, who both pitched in Minnesota’s series finale, a 7-1 loss, in Houston against the Astros.