My face was in my hands. A day earlier it was a familar location, as Strasmas was more than enough pain for the entire season. But on this day it was supposed to be different. Two Pirates hyped prospects were on Nationals Field and the park was a much more enjoyable place for this Pirates fan.
Jose Tabata looked like everything we thought he would be. The Pittsburgh Pirates OF prospect was making his professional debut behind starter Brad Lincoln. It would turn out to be a sign of things to come for Captain Intensity. Tabata batted leadoff for the Bucs and had two infield singles, a walk, stole a base and played well in left field especially considering the players the Pirates were trotting out to the position to that point in the season.
When the 210 pound, barrel chested, 5’11” Venezuelan slid hard into the left field wall in the middle of the game, I tweeted that the Pirates season without Tabata had just flashed before my eyes. Damn I was never so thrilled to be wrong.
Then my face found it’s familar spot again in the eighth inning. It seemed that Tabata had pulled his hamstring or his groin on the second to last pitch of his last at-bat. On his next swing he hit a ball to deep right center field that was caught, but Tabata had trouble getting down the first base line. He slowly walked off the field at one of the most boring parks in the game. Tabata was headed to the training room.
I pulled out the twitter machine and did it again. Thankfully, I was wrong again. It was easy to see that Jose Tabata was going to be special. After the game Dejan of the Post Gazette posted this video of Tabata speaking on his callup to the big leagues.
We had begged for Tabata to be called up just a few games earlier and Tabata made us look good. He made Pirates President Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington look really good as well. Tabata was ready for prime time.
The story of Jose Tabata is an interesting one. Back in 2006, he signed with the New York Yankiees as a 16 year old. Some stories surfaced after a rough beginning during his 2008 AA season. His numbers had dropped that year to .248/.320/.310 with three home runs and 10 stolen bases in 294 at-bats. He was 19. The Yankees had seen and heard enough. Tabata was traded to the Bucs or Neal Huntington stole him it depends on who is telling the story.
Tabata can turn the trade into an official heist if he can avoid the sophomore slump and increase his power numbers. The Pirates had made the call for Tabata to come to the nation’s capital because he was impressive from day one in the Bucs organization. Tabata hit .308 in 53 games for AAA Indianapolis. He was just 21 years old when he drove this Pirates fan to premature meltdown that night.
Tabata came with baggage. As insane as it sounds now, he was considered risky. His age has been questioned. His off the field judgement had lead many to say he had serious character questions. (We hear whispers he might be getting married again?) But one thing that absolutely nobody can question is his tenacity and ability on the baseball diamonds of the world.
This winter Jose Tabata hit the weight room. He wanted to bulk up.
He knew getting bigger would be a key to what he wanted to accomplish this year. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said that he hoped Tabata would bulk up, but not to the point of losing flexibility or speed. Then he dropped it…
“It’s like a tube of toothpaste. If you want a big blast of power right now, you squeeze hard from the middle. We’re going to squeeze from the bottom, though, to make sure we get everything we can out of him.”
Tabata holds the largest level of upside among the fab five of the Pittsburgh Pirates core. We know Cutch has all the tools. We are certain that Pedro is going to hit bombs. We trust that Walker will stay rock solid and improve defensively.
But the young gun Jose Tabata is the most overlooked of the Fab 5 and we aren’t sure why? Power numbers will improve, he has been working the count carefully out of the leadoff spot, doing his best to try and not to appear uncomfortable in the leadoff spot, and his glove showed strides when we had eyes on him.
Will he continue to grow as a low-slugging hitter that roams left field? Or will he be an all-around left fielder that may be best suited for CF in the future should his power numbers not come with his increased bulk. The big story line for 2011 is just how much can Jose Tabata build off his solid rookie campaign? Can he increase his OPS and slugging numbers?.
Our favorite Tabata attribute? His clutchness. He ripped 30 hits in 79 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Seven doubles. Three triples. The numbers rank third among players that had at least 50 at-bats with teammates in scoring position that hit .320 or higher. [from Baseball Digest]
Tabata also was impressive because there were very few lulls in his production after he was called to the North Shore. He seemed most comfortable at PNC Park.
We dug up a post from August 25 to spark our memory. He was 32-for-79 in his past 21 games on the North Shore with six doubles, a triple, and two homeruns while he scored 15 runs.
Sure he has a few weaknesses. Tabata had very few walks in the season, but the ones he did have were just so clutch. When Tabata needed to get on base, move runners, and drive in teammates, he was above average. Tabata had very few homeruns, but the ones he did hit were memorable– including the big one into the LF seats off his country man Johan Santana.
He’s young, he’s talented, and his sense of clutch was among the best in the game. What’s not to like?
To be a corner outfielder in baseball, power is important. To be a corner in the NL Central, power is required. LF power production in a Pirates uniform is something that has been rare since the Jason Bay trade. With a 2011 Pirates platoon looming in right field, the Bucs will be leaning on Tabata to put up some total bases. Some prime time production. We think Tabata is more than capable.
Tabata didn’t produce large power numbers in 2010. He slugged .400. Apparently, he knows all too well just how important power is. This offseason he told Rob Biertempfel that he has bulked up. Captain Intensity wants to hit homeruns.
“The power is there, I know it is. The ball was jumping off my bat in winter ball. It’s a good feeling, but I have to be careful not to let it change my swing. Sometimes, when you want to hit home runs, your swing gets real long. I can’t let that happen.”—Jose Tabata
We have a feeling that Jose Tabata will achieve whatever he puts his mind to accomplishing. He is estatic about the possiblity of leading off for the Bucs and has been working counts all throughout Spring Training.
In 2010, Tabata hustled out 31 infield hits which might be a reason Clint Hurdle is taking a long look at him for the Pirates leadoff spot. He hits the ball on the ground. He also has a high BABIP. (batting average balls in play)
Look at this fact: Tabata had 93 hits after the All-Star break which was second in the NL (Car-Go was the leader.) His speed is effective on the basepaths too as Tabata stole 44 bases and scored 103 runs between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in 2010. It has the makings of a solid leadoff hitter if he is able to improve his patience.
While we were in Bradenton, Tabata spent a large amount of time in the cage. Watch him work on his hitting and his patience with his usual hyper focus. He looks incredibly solid physically, and is just trying to find his groove when we rolled the video.
At the top of the order in 2010, Tabata took 157 at-bats and only hit .255. It’s hard to explain Tabata’s 2010 struggles at the one spot in the order, but Tabata can fly — he will steal bases and hustle out infield singles (31 infield hits in 2010.) It makes Tabata a likely leadoff guy for Clint Hurdle in 2011 with McCutchen dropping to the third slot.
“He would be the guy to enable us to make that move, no doubt, I don’t want to juggle. I want to try and find somebody that works for a period of time, and then commit to it for a period of time and let it play out.” Clint Hurdle on moving Tabata to the top of the Pirates batting order.
One last thing we want you to notice is that Tabata still has areas to imporve in 2011. Sure he hit well during the season, but there are a few teams in the NL Central he can improve against. Don’t think for one minute that Tabata doesn’t know this. We can see Tabata spending his offseason doing thousands of arm curls with the thought of some of the NL Central pitchers in his head.
Against the Cubs in 2010, Tabata had an OPS of .762
Against Cincinnatti in 2010, he had an OPS .706
Against Houston in 2010, he had an OPS .455
Tabata owned Cardinals pitching in 2010 with an OPS 1.318–a team best
Against the Brewers in 2010, he had an OPS of 822
Another thing about Tabata that is overlooked is his defense. When the power comes, his ability to man the spacious left field in PNC will be another important part of his game. In 2010 Tabata was above average and in 92 starts, he wasn’t charged with an error even though I distinctly remember a couple that could have been considered an E7 and even an E8. But then I remember he is just 22 and the smile returns. The defense will improve. The offensive production should improve too as he becomes the catalyst for a desperate Pirates offense.
And hopefully the time spent with my face in my hands will be reduced accordingly.
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If you made it through Tabata, you should also like the first of the Fab 5 Week posts: Pedro