While the much anticipated — and from some corners maligned — return of Alex Rodriguez is grabbing most of the headlines when it comes to the New York Yankees lately, the most relevant baseball story for the team over the first month of the season is the scorching start of second basemen Robinson Cano. Erasing all memories of his much publicized horrific April in 2008, Cano has been an offensive force for the Yankees at a vulnerable time for the team. Mark Teixeira has been slumping and Alex Rodriguez has not yet even played.
More importantly for the long term well-being of the club, Cano is showing strong indications that he is finally fulfilling his vast potential as the projected batting champion with more than the proficient power that many believed he had after he burst onto the Bronx scene in 2005, a season in which he finished second in the AL ROY voting. Unlike hired guns such as Sabbathia, Burnett, and the aforementioned Teixeira — whose mental fortitude is yet unproven — Cano is a homegrown talent; bred and mentally prepared from the start to handle the excruciating pressures of playing in New York, to perform under the critical spotlights, and to help push the franchise and the tradition into a new era of success and revitalization, much like the Yankees' Captain Derek Jeter did when he came up to the club in the '90s.
Robinson Cano has always possessed the tools to be a great hitter. In 2006, in only his second season at the big league level, a 23 year old Cano tore up American League pitching, hitting .342 with a very good .365 OBP, 15 home runs and an .890 OPS. It was also the season Cano learned the importance of patience at the plate — a Yankee staple — to go with his picturesque stroke, and in doing so, seemed poised to elevate himself to elite status amongst the top offensive players in the game.
But the next two seasons Cano struggled — at times mightily — especially when compared to the lofty standards his '06 season set in place. While Robinson consistently maintained a good .OBP and hit prolifically at times, his batting average dropped drastically the next two seasons — to .306 in '07 and .271 in '08 — and it seemed to some that Cano had regressed into either chronic inconsistency, or worse, general mediocrity.
After two seasons of decline, many wrote off Cano's stellar sophomore campaign as an anomaly. This occurred most notably after his brutal start in 2008 in which he batted an abysmal .151 for April, causing fans and experts alike to rumble that Cano would simply linger on the team as an average, underachieving, hitter until the Yankees found a high-priced replacement that was more proficient with the bat.