Michael Brantley singled up the middle with Jason Kipnis, who had 22 stolen bases last year, on second. Kipnis didnt hesitate rounding third. Nor did Cain, as he scooped the ball up and fired a strike on the fly to catcher Salvador Perez, who tagged Kipnis for the out.
Royal To Brantley, Cains eye-opening defen-Star sive plays arent surprising. Theyre reminiscent of the days when they were teammates on the 2006 West Virginia Power, a Class-A team in the Milwaukee Brewers system.
He was real raw and still learning the game, but he had phenomenal tools,” recalled Brantley.
Surprisingly, neither Brantley nor Cain played center for the Power in 06. Center field was patrolled by Darren Ford, who played briefly for the San Francisco Giants in 2010-11.
Brantley eventually ended up with the Indians as the player to be named later in the 2008 CC Sabathia trade. Cain, along with shortstop Alcides Escobar, was sent to the Royals in the Zack Greinke deal after the 2009 season.
Now Brantley and Cain, along with Angels star Mike Trout, are widely considered the American Leagues premier center fielders. Yost no longer shifts Cain to right as a late-game defensive move as he did last year, when Cain would replace Nori Aoki in right and Jarrod Dyson came off the bench to play center.
Despite three Royals (Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez) receiving Gold Gloves for fielding excellence in 2014, Cain wasnt one of them. That may change this year.
We feel like hes the best center fielder in the game,” said Yost. Just let him play where he plays best instead of moving him back and forth. The reason we moved him around last year was, from the second half on, to save his legs so he didnt have to cover so much ground out there. But his legs are strong. Hes healthy and he can cover that ground.”
In his formative years as a ballplayer, Cain, who didnt play organized baseball until high school, found himself drawn to Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter.
I looked at all his highlights and the way he played the game, said Cain. I pretty much studied the guy growing up. I definitely was a huge fan (of Hunter). Still am. I molded my game after his.
If theres an edge that Trout and Brantley have over Cain as five-tool center fielders, its in the power department at the plate. Trout clouted 36 home runs last year while winning his first A.L. MVP award; Brantley hit 20 and finished third in the balloting.
(Brantley) has always had a great eye and hes always a guy who had a great approach to the plate, said Cain. Hes always been a great hitter. Now hes adding the power, which is something that he has developed.
Cain may never approach Trouts home-run totals, especially playing 81 home games in spacious Kauffman Stadium. Yet, he feels he can work himself into Brantleys neighborhood for homers.
Power is definitely something I want to add to my game, said Cain.
More power would be welcomed by the team that finished last in the majors in homers last year, though the Royals showed signs early this season that the longball is a more integral part of their offensive arsenal.
Detroit Tigers ace David Price carried a 2-0 shutout into the ninth against the Royals on May 2, when Cain got into a 1-1 pitch that had no doubt stamped on it the moment he connected. The ball was quickly jettisoned into the left-
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