Is tough start a sign of things to come for Jose Tabata?
By Jake Misener
Yes, I know.
It’s two games into Spring Training and I’m already reading too much into the performance of a particular player. It’s my job. But for Pittsburgh Pirates fans, the struggles of outfielder Jose Tabata are real – and they’re worth nothing, especially with him locked in a battle with Andrew Lambo for the fourth outfield spot this spring.
Five years ago (although it hardly seems like that much time has passed), Tabata broke onto the scene in Pittsburgh, appearing in just over 100 games – while showing a solid approach at the dish. He batted .299/.346/.400, stole 19 bases and added 21 doubles for good measure. And it looked as if he could be poised to become a mainstay in the Pirates’ outfield.
However, since that rookie campaign, the now-26-year-old has seen his speed numbers fall, as well as his overall batting line. Last season, for example, he stole just one base in 80 contests, while posting a respectable .282/.314/.333 line. However, his on-base percentage left plenty to be desired and the fact that he didn’t homer also raised plenty of eyebrows.
So where does that leave things heading into Grapefruit League play this spring?
According to multiple reports, including one from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Tabata has worked hard at camp to regain some of his former power – something he’ll need to accomplish if he wants to earn that fourth outfield slot.
The team had its outfielder reach out to big league veteran Marlon Byrd this offseason – another case of a player who worked hard to rebuild his swing – both rejuvenating and elongating his playing days in Major League Baseball. Manager Clint Hurdle talked about what the team wants out of Tabata in 2015.
"“We’ve talked to Jose about putting more leverage in his swing,” Hurdle said. “He worked very hard with that through the winter. He’s shown a liking for it. It’s something that takes time.”"
Unfortunately for Tabata, time may not be something he has an overabundance of – especially with the intense competition for the remaining bench spots on the Pirates’ roster. The aforementioned Lambo, as well as Pittsburgh newcomer Corey Hart, could all factor in to whether or not the Venezuelan makes this year’s club out of camp.
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Hart is much less of a threat than Lambo given his health issues from recent years, but, if healthy, he could prove to be a valuable asset to Hurdle’s ball club. Lamb, meanwhile, is out to prove he’s more than a career minor leaguer – something he has failed to do to this point.
So what does Jose Tabata need to do this spring to show that he’s the man for the job in a crowded Pittsburgh Pirates outfield picture? First, and perhaps foremost, he needs to get on base more. The second part – which we already noted – is drive the ball more effectively.
Last year, he came in as a ‘below average’ player in terms of OBP (per Fangraphs) – but for his career, he falls in cleanly between ‘average’ and ‘above average’ – showing he’s more than capable of getting on base as he’s expected to. However, when you have years like 2014, when he showcased virtually no power – as well as struggle to reach base at a decent clip – questions arise.
Which version of Tabata is in store for 2015? Well, thus far in Spring Training, he’s 0-for-5 with a trio of strikeouts – a far cry from reaching base more – and with Lambo hungry for a roster spot, now is the time for the Pirates’ outfielder to right the ship and get back on track if he wants that fourth outfielder role in the Steel City.