Mariners infield prospect Jharmidy De Jesus did not sign a professional contract the first year the Dominican Republic native was eligible. Instead, the 18-year-old infielder matured another year, both physically and as a ballplayer, eventually signing a contract with the Mariners in July 2007 for a bonus of $1 million dollars.
Both De Jesus and the Mariners are pleased with the outcome. De Jesus believes that he's found the right organization. His performance in his first professional season has been very impressive, to say the least. De Jesus batted .339/.417/.591 with 12 doubles and six home runs in 127 at-bats in the Rookie-level Arizona League before an early August promotion to the Mariners' short-season Everett affiliate in the Northwest League. He then collected three hits in his first game in an Everett uniform.
The initial scouting reports on De Jesus indicated that he would likely outgrow his original shortstop position. The 6-foot-3 De Jesus, who looks significantly heavier than his listed weight of 185, added bulk between last fall's instructional league and spring training this March. He's exclusively played third base this season.
Speaking through interpreter Jesus Azuaje, his Arizona League hitting coach, De Jesus said he considers himself much more mature and a better ballplayer than when he was first eligible to sign. His self-confidence is apparent, both in talking with him and watching him on the field.
Having confidence in his abilities goes along with the Mariners development plan, according to Arizona League manager Andy Bottin.
"(We want him) to understand himself," said Bottin, "to get to know who he is as a ballplayer and understand where his power is gap to gap . . . He brings a lot of good tools to the table. That's the thing we really try to develop here . . . He's got the talent and the god-given gifts; that's what we try to build and grow here . . . to find out who they are and then go from there."
De Jesus already looks to be an advanced hitter for his experience level, but he's concerned about more than just his offense. Bottin already considers his defense at third base "good" and says he has enough arm for the position, but De Jesus says that defense is his biggest area for improvement and he's committed to getting better at the hot corner.
Perhaps it's because his favorite player, Alex Rodriguez, plays the same position. De Jesus learns a lot by watching A-Rod. When asked what he likes about Rodriguez, De Jesus replied, "His personality, the way he goes about business, and the way he plays; he plays hard."
He's not just learning by watching Rodriguez, but from other big league players as well. He said that when viewing big league games, he looks for how they execute the fundamentals. Watching games is also helping him improve his English, supplementing the regular language classes provided by the Mariners organization.
The Mariners are doing more than just helping De Jesus and his teammates learn English. He also likes that they teaching the players how to dress and providing discipline to the players, most of whom are in their teen years.
The Mariners' investment in De Jesus is certainly looking like a sound one at this point.
"He's going to be fun to watch," said Bottin.