The Virginia native had to watch his team from the dugout at the start of the season following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee this spring.
“He’s just getting back,” Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell said. “He’s still a little rusty here and there. He has only been back about a week and a half so far. We expect good things out of him though, and he expects good things out of himself.”
The left-handed outfielder is grateful to be wearing pinstripes again.
“I feel good since I’ve been back playing,” Cave said after getting five hits, including a three-run homer in the bottom of the third, during the May 2 game against Harrisburg. “I’m just glad to be back on the field. I feel healthy and ready to go.”
After drafting Cave in 2011, the Yankees reacquired him last year from Cincinnati. The Reds selected him second in the Rule 5 Draft in December 2015. At that time, Cave was ranked as the No. 16 prospect in the Yankees’ organization and had finished the previous season with the Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The Reds returned the left fielder to Trenton after Spring Training last year.
Cave advanced to Triple-A after a hot start to the 2016 season, slashing .288/.353/.510 in 27 games. In Scranton, he went 84-for-322 with five home runs, finishing the season with a career-high total of eight.
The team won the Governors’ Cup championship with Cave as the MVP. He had two runs, three RBIs and one stolen base during the series against Gwinnett.
“He’s a really good offensive player,” Mitchell said. “He’s a great guy to have on the team. He has proven that he can perform here and at the next level.”
While Mitchell recognizes that advancing to Triple-A is “a jump that you have to make adjustments to,” Cave has seen tough opponents in both Trenton and Scranton.
“You do see some guys who have been in the big leagues up there,” Cave said. “You see some older guys up in Triple-A. The pitchers are a little different. The way the game is played is a little different, different pace. It’s still baseball though. You still see a lot of really talented players here.”
Although only 24 years old, Cave is already a veteran of sorts on the team and is known not only for his hitting ways at the plate but also for his enthusiasm and reliability.
“Jake is an older, mature player,” said hitting coach Tommy Slater. “He knows how to hit. That doesn’t surprise any of us, what Jake is doing.”
He's hitting a robust .367 one week in with seven extra-base hits [five doubles and two home runs] in those seven games, OPS'ing around 1.120 in the early going.
Cave “just had to deal with that little knee issue during Spring Training,” according to Slater, and now it is all about “getting him out there every day, getting him back to full health.”
At full health, Cave is a threat to any opponent. Not only is he a power hitter, he is also dangerous even back against the wall. He started as a pitcher in high school, his speed topping out at 94mph during his senior year, and has the arm to make any runner hesitate.
In due time, Mitchell believes Cave will move on again back to Triple-A at some point.
“If there’s any room, he’ll leave us and go up there and play for them,” he said. “As soon as he gets some at-bats and gets some games under his belt, we’ll see what happens from there.”
Cave is keeping all options open as he strives to impress his Thunder crowd and all others who are keeping an eye on him.
“I’m just trying to be consistent and play well and try to get to the big leagues,” Cave said. “If it doesn’t happen with the Yankees, maybe it can happen with somebody else, but I’m just going to try to play the game, play hard and play like I always have been.”