Gregory Polanco was loosely tied to Roberto Clemente by the Pittsburgh Pirates super scout Rene Gayo. But Polanco was sent to Triple-A to start the 2013 season leaving Jose Tabata, the player
with the Clemente tattoo that had his tattoo of Roberto removed from beside his heart, is left with an opportunity to start in right field for the Pirates.
[hat tip to @PSUJim for the update on Tabata body ink]
Tabata has a storied past. He signed with Yankees super scout Ricardo Finol on his 16th birthday. After a banner year in the Gulf Coast League, Baseball America ranked him as the GCL seventh best prospect. A lofty ranking among some outfielders that have went on to be major producers at the big league level, the third spot put him behind only Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce, but ahead of Austin Jackson.
In 2008 with the Trenton Thunder, injuries plummeted his once lofty prospect status as he hit just .248/.320/.310 in 79 games. The Pirates scouts thought they could turn him around and pulled the trigger on a trade that brought Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Karstens to Pittsburgh and send Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to New York.
Immediately, Tabata soared with the Altoona Curve and despite playing just 22 games hit .348/.402/.562.
But then the weirdness came, Tabata’s 43-year old wife stole a baby. Questions about Tabata became front page news in those odd days in Pirates history bringing to light all those questions about his age, talent and personality.
The 5’11″ 210 pounder had a promising start to his career when he came up in 2010 and immediately became the Bucs left fielder. The Bucs leadoff hitter belted 21 doubles and had 19 steals in 102 games. He had a 103 OPS+ and put up cummaltive numbers which in his first big league season were nearly replacement level.
It was his intensity on the baseball field, his ceiling that landed him a six-year $14.5 million dollar deal in August of 2011. It was an eye opening deal at the time. Unfortunately, the outfielder has been absolutely nothing close to average since the ink dried.
There are snapshots of production like his final 30 or so at bats in the 2012 season when he spent more time on the bench despite putting together some offense.
Last spring Tabata came into camp in better shape and hit well. But again injuries slowed him. When Travis Snider got off to a good start, it appeared that Tabata would be the odd man out. But as Snider began to fight his own injuries, Tabata started to see some playing time and when Starling Marte went down, Tabata was again turned to as the Bucs leadoff hitter.
The team made the big move for Marlon Byrd to man right field as the postseason loomed. Tabata played left and set the table for the Pirates as Marte rested. The numbers were still powerless, as the .146 ISO tells the tale, but a 2013 triple slash of .282/.342/.429 and a 119 OPS+, might be enough to land him an opportunity in the early months of the 2014 season.
Gone are the high ceiling visions that he will provide elite level power as he hit just six homers last season. Some think it has been his approach as the leadoff man, consistently trying to hit the ball to the opposite field that have drug down the slugging numbers.
Thoughts that the once swift, never speedy Tabata could be a 30-bags-a-year base stealer are also long gone, he swiped just three last year.
All that is really left are questions about what went wrong and the bitter reality that Tabata is just another heart breaking prospect. Could he turn it around in Pittsburgh? We highly doubt it.
We expected a renewed focus this spring with talented challengers like Snider, Jaff Decker and Chris Dickerson swirling around him to for the opportunity to be a possible place holder until Polanco arrives. Tabata has just three hits in 22 at-bats heading into today’s game along with five strikeouts and no walks.
It’s going to take a lot more than
a tattoo the scare of Clemente tattoo for Tabata to keep a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A good time to start living up to the man inked to his body would be now. The Pirates need a right fielder and if you squint hard enough, Jose Tabata could actually be the man, but the effort that got him through the Pirates farm system rather quickly must start oh, how about now?