Roberto Alomar was a talented and stylish second baseman, a player who was enjoyable to watch because of the way he played the game. When Alomar watches Robinson Cano, another talented and stylish second baseman, he sees a player that he enjoys watching. Alomar also sees a player that he believes can and will improve.
“He’s one of the best second basemen of his generation,” said Alomar in a telephone interview last week. “He can still get better.”
So far, Cano is having a superb season for the Yankees with a .387 average, nine homers and 21 runs batted in. He has embraced the challenge of batting fifth in the lineup, he is hitting with runners in scoring position and he has been the most dynamic player on a team filled with superstars. He has more homers the combined totals of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson.
Cano’s ascension has coincided with him being asked to do more as Rodriguez’s protector in the lineup, a challenge that I think has motivated him. While Teixeira and Johnson barely produced in April and Rodriguez and Granderson (now on the disabled list) also had sluggish starts, Cano has been terrific on offense and defense. Cano should be the American League’s Player of the Month.
“I feel so highly about him,” Alomar said. “If he stays healthy and he stays focused, he can be the next Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees.”
Since Jeter helped the Yankees win four titles in his first five seasons and is the Yankees’ all-time hits leader, being mentioned as the next Jeter is hefty praise. After Alomar linked Cano to Jeter, he added that Jeter worked extremely hard to get to such a lofty level and that Cano had to work at least as hard.
“It’s up to him now,” Alomar said. “It’s not up to anyone else.”
Alomar won 10 Gold Glove Awards, the most ever by a second baseman, and said that Cano can be a smarter defensive player by refining his instincts. When Alomar played second, he prepared by expecting that the ball would be hit to him. Little Leaguers are told to prepare the same way. What made Alomar’s approach more advanced was how he studied what type of pitch was about to be thrown and where the catcher wanted it to be thrown. In addition, Alomar also studied hitters and factored their tendencies into determining where he would position himself at second.
“You can’t play in the same position all of the time,” Alomar said. “It’s a matter of having the knowledge and knowing what to do with it.”
Cano is more adept at scampering to his right than his left to field grounders. Because of that, Alomar said that Cano should inch to his left whenever he can to help him handle the plays that are the toughest for him. Alomar said it is tougher for a second baseman to go to his right because his back is to everything first base, but Cano moves smoothly in that direction.
Even though Cano only sees 3.31 pitches per at-bat, which is last among the Yankee regulars, Alomar said that Cano is a shrewd hitter who has shown the ability to make the proper adjustments. If Cano sees a juicy pitch early in the count, he should pounce on it. In four at-bats against the Baltimore Orioles last Thursday, Cano had two homers and a double while seeing seven pitches.
But once Cano’s at-bat is finished, Alomar said he should treat his time in the dugout as if he is in a classroom. Alomar, a lifetime .300 hitter, called baseball “a mind game” and said Cano can learn a lot about a pitcher by concentrating on what happens in front of him. As Cano watches the other team, Alomar, like everyone else, will be watching Cano.
“I see myself when I watch him play,” Alomar said. “He can be one of the best.”