Plan in motion to overhaul Cano's swing
Second baseman to work with Long in offseason on hitting
NEW YORK -- Robinson Cano hears the whispers, even if he refuses to look over his shoulder. To do so would only compound the disappointment the Yankees second baseman fights each day.
Playing through the final month of a frustrating season, Cano has been stung by criticism labeling his on-field effort as nonchalant. Yet those adjectives have been meaningless compared to the cold splash of reality Cano feels each time sees a batting average hovering in the .260s, wondering why it belongs to him.
"I don't want to say this is a bad year, but it's at least a year that I'm going to learn from and not be back in this situation again," Cano said. "This is a year that you can just say, 'OK, this is not happening again.'"
The Yankees hope so, and they are preparing steps to move in that direction. Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long plans to travel to the Dominican Republic to work with Cano in November. The work there will be extensive and represents a complete overhaul of the infielder's swing.
The promise is of a completely revamped player in advance of Spring Training. Long outlined pieces of his blueprint for Cano by eliminating excess action, while putting him in a better position to hit, squaring up more with the pitcher. Addressing Cano's strike-zone discipline is also high on the to-do list.
"You're going to see a huge difference visually," Long said. "You'll see less movement, an explosive, compact swing, and you'll probably see more home runs. I think his average will go way up and I think his walks will go way up."
Cano completed the Yankees' 10-game road trip batting .261 with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 143 games. His .295 on-base percentage is among baseball's lowest for regular players, and after Cano went hitless on Wednesday at Anaheim, he had not walked in his last 99 plate appearances, a sure sign that his plate discipline has gone backward.
"At a point there, it was moving in the right direction," Long said. "I'll take blame for it, but he's got to take blame for it, too. You can't go up there and continue to expand the zone and swing at pitches that you can't drive."
The Yankees were aware of the storm clouds brewing with Cano, even when New York placed a four-year, $30 million wager that the 25-year-old would continue to improve. Even if Cano wasn't going by the book mechanically, Long said, he was still able to achieve great results in the batter's box, leaving no options to do but watch and wait.
"You can't [overhaul] a guy that's had that much success," Long said. "I think he's still going to be a real good player. He's got to make some changes with the mechanics of his swing, but coming in with all the success that he'd had doing it that way, there's really not much anyone could do other than just let him go with it."
The contract was a drastic change from the way the club operated with past homegrown stars like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. Yet it seemed, in many circles, a sound investment.
Since his debut in 2005, Cano had batted .314 -- including a .342 mark in 2006 -- and had the most hits of any American League second baseman.
A deal with two one-year club options for 2012 and 2013 was finalized in February, one that could be worth as much as $59 million if both options are picked up. Now, Cano believes it has made him something of a target for observers disappointed with the Yankees' struggles.
"People always talk. They always look for something," Cano said. "They never say you work hard or you're a great player. They're always going to say the bad stuff on the radio. That way, they can make their shows. That's the way they're using me right now. I'm the one that they say something about."
Some have suggested that Cano's troubles can be traced to the departure of coach Larry Bowa, who traveled west to join Joe Torre's Los Angeles Dodgers. The early-morning workouts that Cano and Bowa shared were extensive, and Bowa was willing to get into Cano's ear or offer a swift kick in the rear end, depending on which was needed.
Recently, Cano admitted that he misses Bowa and said the two have spoken by telephone off and on. But Long believes that the Yankees' current coaching staff is able to get through to Cano as well. When presented with criticism that Bowa's departure may be partially responsible, Long said, "That's a cop-out. One guy doesn't make or break anybody."
"There's got to be an urgency, though," Long said. "There's got to be something that drives. OK, he got his money and he got the contract. Now, where do I go that I'm going to find something to drive me to get me over the top -- to be where Dustin Pedroia is, where Ian Kinsler is? People are talking to him in the clubhouse, other players and the coaches, saying, 'What can we do to drive you to be the best?'"
When it is suggested to Long that Cano sounds like his main priority for the winter, the hitting coach does not dispute the assessment.
"Look at the rest of the guys in this room and they've had decent years," Long said. "Robbie has underachieved and we need to get him to be more consistent -- to be an All-Star caliber player every single year. And he's capable of doing that. The sky is the limit, it really is."
Cano said that he looks forward to working with Long, even though the two have not discussed the X's and O's of exactly what could take place. Now is not the time to do so -- not with 16 games remaining in the regular season and the Yankees beginning to speak about playing for pride, accepting that their run will end after 13 consecutive seasons of playoff baseball.
A .237 career hitter in April, Cano knows that a better start is of importance. Once the Yankees close out their stadium in the Bronx, Cano said that he would love for the Yankees to permit him to play winter ball on a more extended basis this year, something they have shied away from due to injury concerns and heavy season workloads in the past.
Though it won't show up in the numbers, Cano vows that he is a smarter player today and hopes to use this season as his personal turning point.
"I'm a little disappointed, but I would say everything isn't going to be perfect every year," Cano said. "I've been good the last three years. I would say, let's start from here now and start over again."
Bryan Hoch is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.