Tabata to the Majors, Too

Pittsburgh Pirates recalled OF Jose Tabata from Triple-A Indianapolis.

Tabata, 21, is a polarizing prospect. His backers see a precocious talent who makes score of contact and possesses more athleticism than one would expect from his compact frame. Those more skeptical of Tabata’s upside point out uncertainty about his age and limited power potential.

Signed by the Yankees out of Venezuela for $550,000 in 2004, Tabata burst on to the prospect scene by showing an exciting blend of hitting skills and speed in A-Ball over the 2006 and 2007 seasons. As a 17-year-old in the Low-A South Atlantic League, he hit .298/.377/.420 in 363 plate appearances. He had decent strike zone control (8.3 BB%, 20.7 K%) and a pinch of power (.122 ISO), while swiping 15 bases in 20 attempts. In the High-A Florida State League in ’07, Tabata had a .307/.371/.392 triple-slash in 456 PA. He walked 7.3%, punched out 16.9% and had a .086 ISO, going 15-for-22 on the base paths.

Those numbers don’t stand out at first glance, but are more impressive when the context is considered. Tabata was (apparently) the same age as high school sophomore in ’06 and a junior in ’07, and the FSL is a pitcher-friendly circuit. Baseball America rated Tabata as the 27th best talent in the minors prior to 2007 and the 37th-rated prospect leading up to 2008.

That ’08 season wouldn’t be a banner one for him, though. Bumped up to Double-A, Tabata posted feeble numbers at the plate, angered the Yankees by leaving the park during an April game and tweaked his hamstring. He was shipped to Pittsburgh (along with Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Karstens) that July for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. Tabata picked up the pace in the Eastern League after the trade, finishing the season with a .277/.345/.388 line in 442 PA. He walked 8.1%, struck out 17% and had a .111 ISO, with 18 SB and two CS. BA knocked him down its list somewhat, but Tabata still cracked the top 100 (#75).

Last year, the 5-11, 210 pound righty batter began the year back at Altoona. Though he was caught red-handed on the bases often (7 SB, 6 CS), Tabata hit .303/.370/.404 in 254 PA. His secondary skills were again mild (7.9 BB%, .111 ISO), but he punched out just 11% of the time.

Tabata was promoted to the Triple-A International League later that summer, and that’s where he opened 2010 as well. In 400 combined PA at the level, he owns a .296/.358/.419 line, with an 8.3% rate of free passes taken, a 14.8% K rate and a .123 ISO. Happily for fantasy folks, Tabata has recovered his base stealing prowess (29 SB, 8 CS, a 78.4% success rate).

Assuming the right hamstring cramp he suffered last night isn’t serious, Tabata figures to see a lot of playing time — Jeff Clement has been banished to Triple-A, and Garrett Jones will man first base more frequently.

His long-term value is hard to gauge, however. Is Tabata 21? Not even the Pirates seem to know for sure. Will he ever hit more than the occasional double? He doesn’t have a projectable frame, as he’s under six feet and has already filled out physically. Will his stolen base totals translate to the highest level? Tabata’s not a speed demon, with tick-above-average wheels. There are a wide range of possibilities here.

Tabata’s someone to watch in NL-only leagues, and he has some value in keeper formats. But keep in mind that there are a plethora of potential outcomes — he could be anything from a 21-year-old with room to develop offensively to a maxed-out 24-year-old who needs to play plus defense to be worthy of an everyday spot in the lineup.

We hoped you liked reading Tabata to the Majors, Too by David Golebiewski!

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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i’m in a 12 team keeper league. He won’t be a keeper for me but I’m willing to take a chance on him. He could provide me some much needed stolen base numbers. Hopefully he can score some runs and keep that average up.