TRENTON, NJ – As the Trenton Thunder move past the Eastern League All-Star break, an influx of new faces with new stories can be found in the club’s locker room. Perhaps none of these are more intriguing than outfielder Jake Cave, who was promoted from Tampa as he looks to put the finishing touches on a breakout season that has him squarely on the map as a legitimate prospect.
Cave, who produced a .304/.354/.305 batting line and three home runs in 90 games with the Tampa Yankees, has struggled a bit at the plate in his first week as a member of the Thunder. However, he seemed far from concerned as he talked about making the adjustments to Double-A pitching.
“I was expecting to see a lot of tough pitching and a lot of tough competition, and I’ve faced that,” Cave told reporters in his first Thunder media session. “It’s tough when I haven’t faced these pitchers all year… I like it because I haven’t seen a bad pitcher yet. It’s a different type of pitching than you see in the Florida State League, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”
Cave indicated that in his first week in the Eastern League, he has seen much better pitchers, as opposed to the power-armed throwers that frequently inhabit Florida State League mounds. Although in High-A Cave was able to sit on fastballs in certain counts, more developed pitchers means that more hitters are forced to swing at a pitcher’s pitch in typical hitter’s counts.
“It gets [to be a] 2-0, 3-1 count, you can basically gear up for a fastball a lot of times down there,” Cave said of the pitching style in High-A. “Here, they want to win, they’re ready to play and they’re getting ready to go to the bigs. They’re going to go 2-0, and you might see a changeup, you might see a sinker. So it’s something different.”
Cave’s status as a prospect nearly took a hit immediately after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 Amateur Draft. In his first professional game, Cave lasted just two plate appearances before suffering a fractured kneecap while sliding into home plate. The injury would cost him the remainder of that season and all of the next, though it did little to damper his spirits and his drive to succeed.
“The way I see it, I think it helped me,” Cave said of his knee injury. “I got to do a lot of one-on-one work with some of the coordinators because I was at the Tampa complex. A lot of big name guys were down there, and I got to just get in the cage and work with them and I feel like it helped me a lot.”
One of those “big name guys” was none other than New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who was rehabbing from an ankle injury before Cave left Extended Spring Training in 2013. Despite growing up as a Boston Red Sox fan, Cave named Jeter and former Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. as his two heroes growing up.
While Cave will never be afforded the opportunity to share the field in a game situation with his boyhood idol, he did get an experience he will never forget during final days of rehabbing from the fractured kneecap in Tampa when he was asked to join Jeter in the batting cages.
“Tommy Slater would call me over and say ‘Hey Jake, let’s go hit,’” the 21-year-old recalled of the experience. “It would be me and Jeets in the cage for about an hour and that was awesome. It was really, really cool.”
The batting cages at the Yankees complex in Tampa was also the place where Cave credited with his development from a mental standpoint. Always known to be a high-intensity player on the field, having a year to focus on improving his swing and approach in the batter’s box earned him the right to skip right ahead to Class-A Charleston as he returned from his injury.
“I used to be kind of out of control,” Cave said with a laugh. “I liked to play really hard. Sometimes at the plate I’d be a little out of control and try to do too much. I feel like when I was hurt, I got to get in the cage and, for months, just sit there and work on what I need to do and calm myself down.”
Keeping calm has helped Cave to achieve his season-long set of goals by the middle of July, leaving him to head back to the drawing board for what he wishes to accomplish over the final month of the Eastern League season.
“One of the goals I wanted to shoot for was to be a first-half All-Star, [and] I did that,” Cave told reporters. “I wanted to, at some point, try to make it here, and I’ve done that, but now I’ve got to make it a different goal.”
“I came here with over a month left in the season, now I’ve got to come out here and actually produce,” Cave added. “So it’s just another goal to come out here and play hard, stay in the starting lineup, stay at the top of the lineup, and show that I can play outfield and show that I can compete against Double-A pitchers.”