Yankees' Cano becomes Carew, but with power

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2011 - 10:32 PM

Mention the Yankees second baseman's name and astute baseball people start gushing about his wide-ranging abilities.

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The Yankees' Robinson Cano won Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in Phoenix in July, with his father, Jose, pitching to him.

Photo: Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

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New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi was holding his pregame media session in the visitors dugout at Target Field. A Minnesota reporter left early and noticed three players sitting on a riser near the tunnel to the clubhouse.

Mark Teixeira was on the right, Derek Jeter was on the left and Robinson Cano was in the center.

It was through this intense investigative work the reporter felt as if he'd stumbled upon a reason the Twins have considerable difficulty in defeating the Yankees.

What was alarming was to see Teixeira, with his 1,000 RBI at age 31, and Jeter, with his 3,000 hits and credentials as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and realize neither was at this moment the best player in the group.

You can get endless praise for Jeter, and odes to Teixeira's switch-hitting power, and gushing over the magnificent season of Curtis Granderson, and anticipation of the added greatness Alex Rodriguez will bring back to the Yankees as soon as Sunday, but if you want to stop a baseball man in his tracks, bring up Cano.

Dan Gladden was in the home dugout and was asked: "How do you like the second baseman over there?"

The broadcaster and former Twins outfielder's eyes grew wide and he said: "Cano! Can we develop one of those ... please?"

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was nearby and was asked: "How many players are around that are as good as Cano?"

Gardenhire shook his head in admiration and said: "I'll tell you, he's one of the best in this league, for sure. He hits so well that's the first thing everyone talks about, but his defense ... he makes every play.

"There's no one better at second base. Throw in the way Cano runs and he's a true triple threat."

In Friday's second game of this series, Teixeira's high pop was allowed to drop untouched in short left-center for a double to start the third inning. Cano fouled off a few pitches before Kevin Slowey left a ball in the middle of the plate. Cano hit a bullet off the scoreboard in deep right-center to put the Yankees ahead 2-1 in an eventual 8-1 victory.

"It was a rocket, and he flicked it ... just flicked it," Gardenhire said. "That shows you that he has really strong hands. He's one of the toughest outs in baseball."

His full name is Robinson Jose Cano Mercedes. And that maternal name describes the second baseman perfectly as a player: smooth, fast, powerful.

Cano took over as the Yankees second baseman in May 2005 as a 22-year-old. He had one off year, in 2008, but every series you see him against the Twins, he looks like a better player than the last time.

"He's a great player -- offense and defense," Girardi said. "The last two years, he's pretty similar as a player. What he's learned is to take on a larger responsibility."

Cano is 28 now, and there's no longer a need for subservience in the Yankees' star-filled lineup. He has as much to offer as anyone -- and maybe more.

Tony Oliva was in his Twins uniform for batting practice and was asked about Cano.

"He's a super player, a super kid," Oliva said. "Alex [Rodriguez] introduced Cano to me his first year. He always comes over and says, 'Hi, Tony,' and we talk. He's my buddy.

"He's great at second base. He hits lefthanders and righthanders ... it makes no difference.

"You know what kind of family he comes from, that his dad was there and pitched to him in the home run contest."

Jose Cano spent years in the Houston Astros organization before finally pitching in six big-league games in 1989. He tossed the pitches that Cano kept pummeling into the seats to win the home run contest at this year's All-Star Game in Phoenix.

Back in 2005, Yankees manager Joe Torre was ridiculed when he said Cano reminded him of Rod Carew. Six years later, he carries a .308 career average, with a substantial advantage in power and in play at second base (Carew's original position) over Sir Rodney.

Oliva was Carew's roommate for years with the Twins. "When Torre said that, he didn't know Cano was going to develop this kind of power," Tony O said. "Rodney was strong, too, but he stayed with the same approach as a hitter for his whole career.

"I would take both of them on my team. Wouldn't you?"

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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