Mark Carig made an interesting point this morning about Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner by comparing their credentials with those of a young Bernie WIlliams:
What if Bernie Williams (the 1992 version) were involved in the Yankees’ current position battle in center field? How would he stack up competing against Gardner and Cabrera? Would he go on to earn a chance to play enough to develop into the steady star that he became?
Gardner isn’t in the same offensive universe as the other two, though his speed and glove in center might help offset some of the difference, though certainly not all of it. Melky and Bernie appear more comparable, with one big difference. Cabrera has already had chances to prove himself, thus exposing a limited upside. This was not the case with Bernie, who didn’t log his first full season until he was 24.
Anyway, I’ve pulled out two -year chunks during somewhat similar times in their respective careers. Using this year’s CHONE projections to forecast the 2009 season for Cabrera and Gardner, here are the comparisons:
1992: Age 23, 62 games, 261 at-bats, .280/.354/.406
1993: Age 24, 139 games, 567 at-bats, .268/.333/.400
2008: Age 23, 129 games, 414 at-bats, .249/.301/.341
2009: Age 24, 146 games, 515 at-bats, .280/.345/.402
2008: Age 24, 42 games, 127 at-bats, .228/.283/.299
2009: Age 25, 119 games, 446 at-bats, .258/.371/.360
Melky compares favorably to Bernie, while Gardner needs to point to his speed and defense to justify being included in the conversation. Does this mean that Melky is going to turn into Bernie Williams? Certainly not. However, it does caution against giving up on young players who have struggled in the majors at a very young age. Melky’s 2006 was very strong for a player at his age, and his regression since then does not mean that all of his potential has dissipated.
I agree with the choice of Brett Gardner as the starting center fielder, and I have suggested that the Yankees should try to trade Melky. However, I would not be entirely shocked if Melky develops into a decent player in the coming years. I do not think he will ever be good enough to start on a championship caliber team, but he could fashion a starting career on some weaker teams.
What do you think about Melky’s potential? Is the comparison to Bernie useful or distinguishable?