Jose Tabata doesn't look like the prototypical lead-off hitter. He's just producing like one.
The 21-year-old center fielder has the thick legs and stocky build of a middle-of-the-order hitter, and in many ways, that's been Tabata's biggest problem. Scouts look at his build and understandably start wondering whether he'll hit for enough power to be a solid corner outfielder. After all, outfielders who look like Tabata usually don't keep their speed.
And maybe Tabata, who plays for Triple-A Indianapolis, will slow down as he gets older. But for now, he's one of the most deceptive speedsters in the minors.
"It's a funny thing. He doesn’t look fast, but he is," Indianapolis manager Frank Kremblas said. "He’s a 4.15 (from home to first base) from the right side. He’s a lot faster than he looks because he has really long strides."
That kind of speed rates as well above-average. It also explains how Tabata has turned into a nuisance on the bases. He's stolen 17 bases in 20 attempts this year, putting him on pace to easily set his career high in steals—he stole 22 bases as a 16-year-old in the Gulf Coast League.
He's also hitting .317/.375/.421, so he's not only stealing bases, he's also getting on base enough to score plenty of runs (fourth in the International League with 26). And when the Pirates needed a center fielder, Tabata slid over from left field to center.
"He's playing good defense," Kremblas said. "He gets good jumps. He likes to play shallow, which I like."
Barring an injury to Andrew McCutchen, Tabata won't be playing center field in Pittsburgh. And that's why there are still questions about Tabata's ultimate role. His current .421 slugging percentage is the best of his career, but it's still more suited for a top-of-the-order hitter than a run producer. Now the question will become whether Tabata fits the Pirates' needs. His hand-eye coordination has shown that he can hit for average and get on base, but there are some legitimate questions as to whether his swing will ever allow him to consistently hit for anything more than gap power.
Now that McCutchen has moved into the three-hole in Pittsburgh, it's possible that Pittsburgh could use Tabata's on-base skills at the top of the lineup. The speed Tabata has as a 21-year-old may disappear as he ages, but with a big league lineup that currently has four batters with on-base percentages under .315, his natural hitting ability (he came into the season as a .295/364/.402 hitter despite always being one of the youngest players in his league) may be too much to overlook.
Stars Of The Weekend
Bryan Morris, rhp, Pirates. Morris threw four scoreless innings against Fort Myers in what proved to be his final appearance for high Class A Bradenton. After the game the Pirates announced that Morris has been promoted to Double-A Altoona. Morris had not allowed an earned run in his last 30 innings with the Marauders.
Mike Minor, lhp, Braves. Minor was struggling to get his bearings with Double-A Mississippi just a couple of weeks ago. But the Braves' 2009 first-round pick has been unhittable in his last two starts. He had allowed one hit in six scoreless innings in his previous start. He was better on Sunday as he struck out 11, walked one and gave up two hits in eight scoreless innings against West Tenn. Minor has now struck out 65 batters in 45 innings and has whiffed more than 10 in three of his last four starts.
Kyle Gibson, rhp, Twins. If you're ranking the most impressive starts to the 2010 season, it's hard to think of too many pitchers who would stand above Gibson. Promoted to Double-A New Britain after compiling a 1.87 ERA at high Class A Fort Myers, Gibson threw seven scoreless innings in his Rock Cats debut against Harrisburg on Saturday. As is becoming customary, he recorded three groundouts for every flyout.
“You can try to lay off when he's burying the ball (in the dirt), but there's a lot of deception in his pitches,” Harrisburg manager Randy Knorr told The Patriot-News. “He's 6-6, and when he's standing on top of his change and slider, it's tough to lay off.”
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