A different grind: How Jake Cave is preparing for his second season with the Phillies

In an exclusive interview, the Phillies outfielder talks about the unique challenges of his role and his preparation to bring his best for the 2024 season.
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jake Cave
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jake Cave / Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a typical January day in McKinney, Texas, on the outskirts of Dallas. Around his daily family offseason routine, Jake Cave is busy preparing for the upcoming baseball season.

After dropping his six-year-old daughter off at school and spending time at home with his baby son, Cave heads to Athletes Training and Health in nearby Allen. Alongside ball players from around the league, the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder is working to be ready for whatever the 2024 season has in store.

Despite not knowing his exact role, he has a good idea what the team will ask of him. He knows what to focus on to bring his best for his second season as a Phillie.

Cave started getting swings in the cage early this winter. After not playing much at the end of the year, he’s hitting more balls than he has in past offseasons. With the help of hitting coach Kevin Long and from his work in the cage at the end of last season, he’s working out some kinks in his swing.

“I started swinging kind of early because I wanted to get some things right,” Cave says. “There were some things about my swing that I wanted to figure out. Just being consistent, having a good swing and a good path. Driving into the ground with my swing, not drifting forward. Things that you'll hear all hitters say.”

Cave is open about the challenges of his role

After an up-and-down first year with the star-studded Phillies, the 31-year-old Cave will have to earn his playing time when he gets the opportunity. He wants to get to a spot where he’s ready to perform as a fourth outfielder, coming off the bench and maybe only playing every few days.

And that’s the crux of it for Cave. Not being an everyday player poses unique challenges over the 162-game grind of an MLB season. After debuting with Minnesota in 2018 and putting up 13 home runs in a career-high 91 games, he couldn’t get a foothold on consistent playing time during his five seasons in a Twins uniform.

“It’s a different grind,” Cave says of not playing every day. 

“There are times where I'm not playing for a while and I have to get a hard lift in during the day, make sure I'm getting my sprints in. From the start of the fifth inning or so I have to make sure that I'm good to go. I'm seeing tough righties get warmed up in the bullpen and I have to get loose, get going, turn a sweat on and then calm it down. I've been in every role you can think of, so I'm ready for whatever.”

Not playing every day is just one of the challenges for a player in Cave’s position. Part of the grind is spending time in the minor leagues, which Cave has done in each of his seasons in the majors, outside of the shortened 2020 year.

As part of the Phillies’ Opening Day roster last season, Cave played right out of the gate. He more than earned his spot after putting up the best spring training of his career, absolutely crushing the ball in Clearwater, where he hit .462 with a 1.327 OPS. He split time between left and right field over 20 games in April, but after a slow start at the plate and the return of Bryce Harper, he found himself optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

The former Yankees draft pick spent two and a half months with the IronPigs. In 59 games, he hit a tantalizing .346 and posted a 1.113 OPS while powering 16 home runs and 30 doubles. He even earned International League Player of the Week honors after a particularly scorching week in May. Undoubtedly, playing every day helped him find his timing and his swing.

It’s those kinds of numbers in his minor league stints over the years that have fans hoping he can translate that success to the big leagues — which he did when he returned from Lehigh Valley at the end of July.

Last season's experience is helping Cave prepare for this season

Back with the Phillies again, Cave hit .275 with an .870 OPS over 56 plate appearances through 19 games in August. He credits the consistent playing time with the IronPigs in helping him carry quality at-bats to the majors.

“I came back up, and I was feeling good,” Cave says. “I was leading off every day, playing center field, so I got a feel, and sometimes if you get a good feel you're able to hold it. Especially when you know you're going to play the next day. Sometimes it's easier to let those bad games go when you know the next day you’re going to get more at-bats.”

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. He lost his timing and slumped through the end of the season to a .130 average in September. But Cave’s not one to make excuses.

“I let myself fall out of [my timing] when I wasn't getting the consistent playing time, but that's no excuse,” he says. “If I play once a week, I want to be able to get four quality at-bats. I don't want to have any excuse for not playing well. I need to be better mentally."

"You're striving for perfection, knowing that it's not going to happen," he adds. "So that's where I need to be."

Cave has no delusions about his performance in the minors. He admits that while he saw some good pitchers in Lehigh Valley, the level just isn’t the same as the majors. After going from playing every day in Triple-A to facing harder-throwing big leaguers, he realized he needed to make an adjustment.

Based on that experience, Cave added a new wrinkle to his offseason work in the cage. Besides seeing higher velocity, he’s using lighter training balls to mimic fastballs with carry and ride. It’s not something he has done in winter’s past, but he knows it’s something he needs to give himself the best chance for success this season.

“That's something I obviously needed to do,” he says. “Because I had a little trouble going from playing every day in Triple-A to going into the big leagues where guys throw a little harder.”

Consistency tops Cave’s goals for 2024

With his refined offseason routine in full swing, what are Cave’s goals for 2024? What does a successful season look like?

With the uncertainty around his playing time going into his seventh big-league season, Cave isn’t crafting his goals out of numbers. Instead, he wants to take stock of how he’s feeling through the season and focus on things within his control — the consistency in his preparation and the work he’s putting in every day to give himself the best opportunity when he’s called into action.

“I want to make sure that when I'm coming in every day that I'm taking my work seriously and that I'm keeping my work consistent,” Cave says. “I want to put myself in the best position to stay healthy, stay fast, stay athletic, do all the things that have kept me in the game.

“I've seen a lot of games. I've seen a lot of pitches. Right now, I feel like I'm at the peak of what I can do athletically and baseball-wise. I just need to tell myself to do it. If I'm putting in the work, then I'm confident, and I just need to make sure I'm putting in the right work.”

Spring training is right around the corner. The second-year Phillie is excited to head to Florida and eventually back to Philadelphia. Until then, he’ll continue preparing for the season he wants to have.

It’s a different grind, but Cave is ready for whatever comes his way.

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