Faces on the Field: Lorenzo Cain

Smarts, hard work turning 'unrefined player' into top prospect

(Tony Farlow/MLB.com)

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com | August 11, 2006 4:00 AM

West Virginia Power outfielder Lorenzo Cain represents the epitome of making up for lost time.

The sheer natural athletic ability of the 6-foot-2, 165-pounder would seem to have made him a natural to be a three-sport star growing up, like so many professional athletes.

But, in fact, growing up in northwest Florida, Cain had little opportunity to play sports.

"My mom was working two jobs when I was growing up and there was just never a point where I could play, because I needed to help around the house," said Cain, who just turned 20 this past spring.

When he began high school, Cain finally went out for the basketball team but didn't make it.

The next year, as a sophomore, he decided to give baseball a try, and a Milwaukee Brewers top prospect was born.

Cain, who did not step onto a baseball field until a few years ago, is steadily rising among the ranks of the most highly regarded Brewers farmhands. And, in just his first full pro season, he's also been one of the most consistent, standout players in the 16-team, prospect-laden South Atlantic League.

Cain was among the league leaders with a .304 batting average and 30 steals, to go with five home runs, 49 RBIs and 28 doubles. His 134 hits with three weeks remaining in the season had him in a good position to break the Class A franchise record for hits of 150, set in 1992 by Bobby Perna of Charleston, when the team was a Cincinnati farm club. He was off to a hot start in Aug., hitting .353 after batting .312 in July.

Cain ranked third among South Atlantic League hitters in batting, just six points off the lead, and led the league in hits.

Credit can be distributed to a lot of folks in putting Cain firmly on the prospect map.

A strong family support system that includes his mom, his older brother and his grandparents has been crucial in keeping him level-headed, humble and grounded while his star takes off.

And speaking of stars, Milwaukee's Florida scout Doug Reynolds gets a four-star play in the scouting scorebook for finding Cain early and sticking with his raw but gifted discovery, to the point of going with him to the gym during the offseason to work out with him and further develop his still-slender build.

Reynolds convinced the Brewers to take Cain as a draft-and-follow pick out of Madison County High School in the 17th round in 2003. He played that year at Tallahassee Community College, and his progress was astounding as he hit .344 with a team-leading 19 steals.

"This was as good a draft-and-follow as you can have, and the type of guy you love to have this happen to," said Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik. "He's a good athlete, a great kid with terrific work habits, but he was an unrefined player. Doug recognized his abilities early, and by going to a good program like Tallahassee he just continued to get better and better, with the chance to play every day."

Cain signed with the Brewers just before the 2004 draft, and the club sent him to the Arizona Rookie League. It was his first time away from home, but he didn't let the homesickness get to him on the field, earning league MVP honors as he hit .356 with five homers, 37 RBIs, 45 runs scored and a league-best 73 hits.

"We knew he was a nice player with athletic ability, a nice swing and a loose body, but for him to go out and do what he did last summer? No way anyone could have predicted that," marveled Zduriencik. "But it's a tribute to him, how he approached things and his work habits."

As one of the Robin Yount Award winners for the Brewers' Organizational Players of the Year, Cain was among a handful of prospects who were flown to Milwaukee for a luncheon in their honor and their first visit to Miller Park.

"That was exciting, amazing," Cain recalled. "The stadium was beautiful and just to be there in front of all those people ... I really enjoyed myself."

One thing that has really impressed the Brewers staff has been Cain's quick learning curve.

"Last year he put up the good numbers in Arizona largely on the basis of his physical ability, because I don't think he had a good grasp of the game, in general, yet," said Jim Skaalen, Milwaukee's Minor League hitting coordinator. "But he's worked so hard that now he pretty much thoroughly understands what he's trying to do offensively. If he takes a bad swing he knows what he's done wrong and what he needs to correct. He's come so far, so quickly."

With a body that projects to fill out as he matures (right now, his uniform No. 11 appears fitting as it looks like any wider number wouldn't fit on his back), Cain possesses all of the "five tools" to one degree or another. He already hits for average with good speed. His power should come with time. He has a strong arm and is learning the nuances of outfield defense.

And that sixth tool, the all-important intangible: makeup? Off the charts.

"I love his attitude," Skaalen said. "He gets down on himself, but not to the point where it tears him up but rather to the point where it pushes him to want to be better the next day."

Zduriencik has been delighted, most of all, by Cain's consistency over the grind of his first full season.

"He's been so consistent, with his average in the same range all year, and he'll just keep getting better," he said. "He already does things well, and the power will come with time. He just needs the continued fine tuning of playing the game on a daily basis."

Cain has already discovered the difference between Arizona League pitching (almost all fastballs) and the slightly more advanced level of off-speed stuff he's seeing in the SAL. Batting behind speedy leadoff hitter Darren Ford (55 stolen bases), he knows that if Ford is on base he'll see more fastballs, but he's also working on learning to hit the off-speed offerings. And if his numbers are any indication, he's succeeding.

"I'm just trying to improve my hitting and my defense, my whole overall game, trying to get better at all of it," he said. He knows that part of that improvement package will entail playing in fall ball or instructional league in Arizona, further lengthening his first full season. And he's ready for it, though with slightly personal mixed emotions.

"With fall ball and winter ball coming up, I'll probably be in Arizona all year, and that will be the first time I've been away from home for that long. It will be difficult, but I'll get through it."

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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