Joe Girardi will not be filling out the first lineup card of the new Yankees’ season for more than four months. But Kevin Long, the hitting coach, can peek ahead to April and tell which two hitters will be difference makers. He has already visited them both this winter.Considering the time he missed due to injury A-Rod had a pretty solid year. He hit .303/.392/.573 with 35 HR, 103 RBI, 104 R, 18 SB in 138 games. The only thing I wish he'd have done more was hit with RISP. It wouldn't surprise me to see A-Rod put up another monster year next year, something like his 2007 MVP season. That does seem to be the trend since joining the Yanks; one below average year (for A-Rod) followed by a monster MVP season the next year.
Long, who lives in Arizona, has returned from his tutorials with Robinson Canó in the Dominican Republic and with Alex Rodriguez in Miami. The way Long figures, Canó could bat directly ahead of Rodriguez, who hits cleanup, or directly behind him. Either way, Long expects both to improve.
Canó, Long said, has dedicated himself to physical fitness and is in “immaculate condition.” And Rodriguez, he said, is in a better frame of mind after dealing with a divorce last season.
“To say that what he went through in his personal life didn’t affect what he did on the baseball field, I think you’d be hard-pressed for it not to affect anything,” Long said. “But he seems to be moving forward and doing great. He sees his daughters all the time, and he seems to be doing O.K.”
Before I comment on Cano, here's a little more about him from George A. King III:
"I was as impressed with what he looks like as I have ever been in my whole life," hitting coach Kevin Long said of Cano yesterday after spending six days last week in the Dominican Republic with the second baseman who led the list of Yankees disappointments last season.
"He hired a personal trainer from New Jersey who is kicking his [butt], and he looks great," Long said. "His body fat is at 11 percent, his stomach is cut."
The Yankees have been concerned about the 6-foot Cano's body weight - listed at 205 pounds - for a while. That, according to Long, shouldn't be a worry.
"He works on hitting and doing agility drills for two hours, rests and goes to the weight room for three hours," Long said of Cano, who enters the second-year of a four-year, $30 million deal. "There isn't a whole lot of heavy lifting. It's more cardio and light weights."
"If he is going to be a third- or fifth-place hitter, which we need him to be, he has to learn about the strike zone and taking a lot more often than not," Long said of Cano, who drew 26 walks last year. Only 11 players with at least 477 at-bats drew fewer walks than Cano.
"He can do that, because he hits as well as anybody with two strikes."
One of the main complaints we all heard this year about Cano was that the big contract made him too complacent and lazy. From comments he made during the season this idea that he was lazy or didn't care seemed to bother him, and it's great to see that he's now using it as motivation to get better.
I just wonder if moving him up to third or fifth in the order - as long mentioned is what the Yanks need - is the right thing to do at this point in time. It might be too much pressure coming off the down year he had last year. I'd rather see him hit lower in the order at first, get his swing back, and also show that he knows how to take pitches and work counts before they move him up. (Yes, I know how badly they need a no. 3 hitter, and that's one of the main reasons I want them to sign Teixeira.) Eventually I think Cano can handle the three spot, he's got all the talent in the world, I just don't know if he's ready now.