The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Yankees players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 9, second baseman Robinson Cano.
Early in Robinson Cano's career, you'd often hear announcers talk about how he'd win a batting title one day. Hitting .342 in your second big-league season tends to lead to such statements. Now 27, Cano hasn't won that batting title yet, but he's coming off his best year since that monster 2006 campaign. His .320 batting average, team-high 48 doubles, and career-high 25 home runs were good for seventeenth in the American League MVP voting, his highest-ever finish.
Truth be told, Cano would be higher on this countdown, but he hasn't exactly been a model of consistency in his short career. In 2008, you'll recall, Cano finished with an on-base percentage of just .305, and that's only after raising it twenty points after the all-star break. That September, he was benched for failing to hustle on a Cliff Floyd grounder that bounced off Jason Giambi's glove and into short right field. This was only eighteen months ago.
Maybe that benching sent a message to Cano, and he'll continue to grow into one of the American League's elite second basemen, avoiding the dreaded label of a guy who possesses tremendous talent but doesn't fully realize it. (His defense, especially, has come a long way.) His biggest area for growth? Improving on 2009's abysmal .207 batting average with men in scoring position, especially if he hopes to climb up the Yankees' batting order. (He'll likely bat fifth this season.) The wild card for Cano this year: Will the fact that his pal Melky Cabrera was traded to Atlanta affect him on the field — he's made no secret that it upset him off of it — or is that just the kind of thing silly media folks like to speculate about?