One of the biggest surprises in 2004 was the sudden development of Tampa Bay's Jorge Cantu. He hit .302/.335/.576 in 95 games at Triple-A Durham, slugging 22 homers, and remained effective after being promoted to Tampa Bay, hitting .301/.341/.462 in 50 games.
Cantu came into 2004 with the reputation as a good field/no hit guy. He'd hit well in 60 games of Triple-A in '03, hitting .295/.319/.445. But this had been the best hitting performance of his career to that point, and even so he showed weak plate discipline. Cantu didn't appear in my 2004 prospect book, or in the Baseball America prospect book, either. No one really took his improved hitting in '03 seriously, which made his dramatic improvement in 2004 all the stranger.
Cantu is from Mexico. He made his North American debut at the age of 17, hitting .260/.315/.345 at Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League, not showing much offense but impressing with his glovework, his youth, and his athleticism. A hint of offense to come came in 2000, as he split the year between the Sally League and the Florida State League, hitting .301 and .292 respectively. But he didn't show much punch at either level, and his plate discipline was quite weak. Still, given his age and his defense, he was at least interesting. I gave him a Grade C in my 2001 book.
Cantu spent the '01 and '02 seasons for Orlando in the Southern League, fielding well but struggling with the bat. He hit .256 and .242 combined, with sub .300 OBP rates in both seasons. The only positive was a fairly large number of doubles: combining for 57. Again, he rated as a Grade C prospect, with youth being his best attribute.
As mentioned above, Cantu improved his hitting in 2003 in Triple-A, then broke through big-time last year. While there are hints in his track record that he could hit (doubles, occasional batting average spikes), his best attribute has always been his age-relative-to-league. Even when he was struggling in Double-A in '01 and '02, he was among the youngest players at that level. Some scouts felt he could develop into a Nomar Garciaparra type, though this was a minority opinion at the time.
So what does the future hold for Cantu? Can he keep hitting like this? Will his still-weak strike zone judgment catch up with him? To be honest, I don't know what to think.