Since breaking into the league in 2005 Robinson Cano has been something of a conundrum to Yankee fans. He followed a solid debut season by posting a gaudy .342 BA over 500+ at-bats in his second year in the majors, earning him his first All-Star appearance and the weighty expectations of a future batting champion and possibly even future MVP candidate. (How you can hang such absurd "future" honors on a kid when those honors are among the most exceptionally elusive in all of sports – more difficult to attain than all-star appearances, Gold Gloves, or even World Series rings – I don't know, but we've all heard them parroted by multiple commentators and analysts, not just boastful Yankee fans.)
At the same time, Cano developed a reputation as a guy who might not be making the most of his tremendous talent. He seemed infinitely more at-ease and was always more productive at the plate when the pressure was off – batting a career .334 with a .367 OBP and .540 SLG with the bases empty but only .280/.313/.429 with men on base and a paltry .258/.293/.405 with RISP – punctuated by a real futility with the bases loaded when all the pressure should presumably be on the pitcher (.248/.254/.371).
This reputation seemed confirmed by the fact that the Yankees rarely batted this "future batting champion" any higher than 6th in the lineup. Unitl this year, Cano compiled over 1,700 PA in the 7-9 spots in the lineup and a total of 634 in all other slots – with clean-up being the one position from which he has never hit. And when he did get his shots, he didn't seem to make much of them. Nearly half of those 634 "other" PA came from the number 2 spot in the order, and his .272 BA and .293 OBP from that position represent his wost production from any spot in the lineup.
The mix of potential-and-sometimes-apparent brilliance with head-scratching inconsistency followed Cano into the field as well. Like Robert Redford's characeter in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who couldn't hit the side of a barn when standing still but could sharp-shoot moving targets while on the run better than anyone, Robinson Cano would regularly flash leather when having to make the absurdly wide-ranging play in the hole or up the middle, but alternate that with bizarre errors, flubs, and a seemingly lackadaisical approach to the routine grounder.
But one month in 2010 has inspired hope in Yankee fans everywhere that the full potential of Robbie Cano may actually come to the fore this season. It's not so much the hitting for average – though he is out in front of virtually the entire league in that category, he has ben there before. But it's the plate discipline and the slugging that is new. Cano is turning on and pulling more line drives than ever before.
In early May, Cano owns the second best BA (.371) in the majors behind former Yankee prospect Austin Jackson; the fifth best OBP in the AL (.417); the second highest SLG % at .732 behind only Paul Konerko; and is tied for the second most runs scored in the majors with 23 behind only Chase Utley. He is striking out at about the same rate he always has (his 1 K : 11 PA ratio is exactly on target with his rate over the previous 5 seasons), but his K:BB ratio has dropped from more than 2.5 in his previous 5 years to 1.5 so far this season.
His consistency has been remarkable – batting .371 against both left-handed starters and right-handed starters. And where he isn't consistent, he is all the more impressive – his hardest hits have come off of left-handed pitchers (6 of 9 HR are vs. lefties and his SLG % is .970 vs. LHP compared to .609 vs. RHP).
He still is better with the bases empty (.429/.475/.857) than with men on (.293/.340/.561), but with RISP he has proved dangerous (.320/.367/.640).
To be sure, the small-sample-size warning would seem especially warranted in Robbie's case – both because it is only May 4 and because he has been brilliant in stretches before. The question is whether he can put it together for an entire season. Already his torrid April (.400/.436/.765) has given way to a few icy days in early May (.167/.286/.500). But with the way he is spraying line-drives all over the ballpark, Yankee fans have reason to hope that with the 2010 season, Robinson Cano may finally, fully have arrived.