Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Prospect Profile: Jose Tabata (#2)

Age: 18
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 160 lbs
Drafted: Signed Out of Venezuela in 2005 for 500,000 dollars
Position: Outfield (Where is yet to be determined)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Batting: Jose Tabata is all about the projection of his bat. This is one weakness that I have in evaluating prospects. I'm no scout. I can only rely on the consensus of others. The consensus is that Jose Tabata has a big league bat capable of Manny Ramirez type numbers. I doubt that to an extent, even though I do not doubt that Tabata has the ability to be a major impact player, but I do doubt his power potential. Tabata is a small baseball player. He's not Phil Rizzuto, but there is no way to get around Tabata's size. He isn't a lot smaller than Manny Ramirez, but Ramirez is a special type of player. Ramirez is a hall of fame talent who comes along once in a generation, and immediately hit a ton of home runs in the minor leagues at Tabata's age. Tabata is "built like a fire hydrant", but can he really hit 40+ home runs? I doubt it. Tabata does however have two very good skills that he shares with Manny Ramirez: near inhuman plate discipline for an 18 year old and a tremendous ability to get base hits. He will hit a ton of doubles and get his share of extra base hits. Scouts rave about his swing and his ability to keep his hands in. He'll be a batting title contender if everything turns out right.

Defense: Tabata's position is uncertain. At present, he has plus range in the outfield and an average to above average arm. He has been playing left field in Charleston. He could probably be an average centerfielder, but the Yankees played him in the corners in 2006. This was in part due to Tim Battle and Austin Jackson being in Charleston for much of the season, who don't have the bats to hold down a corner position. We'll see if the Yankees try to shift Tabata back to center, but his likely destination is probably left field. He wouldn't have a terrible arm in right field, but it would be average at best there. With hitting potential like Tabata's, position is less of a concern. Still, it would be nice if he were to end up in Centerfield for at least his prime years.

Performance: Tabata spent his age 17 season showing the Gulf Coast League who was boss, hitting .314/.382/.417 in 44 games with 22 stolen bases, 15 walks, 14 strikeouts, 3 home runs, one triple, and five doubles. The power numbers may have been down, but Tabata had a phenominal season for a 17 year old (he actually didn't turn 17 until August of that year). He immediately show toward the tops of prospect lists, but he would really prove himself in 2006 when he was sent to Charleston. During his first three months, he owned A ball hitters, hitting .321/.432/.450, all before his 18th birthday. Unfortunatly, a wrist injury began to sap his power and playing time in June, resulting in a long fade which would land him on the disabled list. He was thought to be healthy after the season ended and was sent to the DWL, where he hit .288/.431/.404 against intense competition before going down with the same wrist injury.

2007 Outlook: If he's able to play (and nothing that we've heard so far indicate the contrary) he will be sent to High A Tampa, where he will be among the youngest if not the youngest player in the league yet again. He made strides in the power department in 2006, but the Yankees will be looking for a lot of those doubles to turn in to home runs. He is going to be in a tough ballpark for hitters, so the numbers may be a little more subtle than they could be. The Yankees will probably keep him there for the entire year, unless he really blows the league away (which is certainly possible). Tabata is years ahead of schedule. Health will be an issue, which I will discuss later. If the Yankees hope to keep him at centerfield, they will have to make a move back there in 2007. Tampa should be an exciting place.

Health: This wrist issue is a major concern about Tabata. No one thought that it was serious when he left Charleston, because presumably the Yankees would have a short leash on an 18 year old. But when Tabata went down in the DWL, a lot of people (myself included) grew worried. Very little information has come out of the Yankees' organization about this, so I can only speculate, which I won't. Wrist injuries can be very tough, and statisically this one clearly hurt his play. Other health issues revolve around his frame and weight. He has a lot of growing to do, and a lot of people are speculating that he could end up with "chunky" legs. This could hurt his range in the outfield. As good as Manny Ramirez is with the bat, we don't want Tabata looking like him in the field.

Ceiling: Very high. In my opinion it is still limited due to size, but Tabata certainly has the ability to hit like an MVP candidate. If nothing goes terribly wrong, he is going to hit #3 somewhere someday for a long time. I don't think that he has the kind of ceiling that a guy like Montero has, simply for lack of power. Of course, this all changes if Tabata ends up in centerfield, where he could be on a Carlos Beltran/Vernon Wells level.

Reaching Ceiling: Tabata will have plenty of chances to fail in the coming years. He probably has at least two and a half minor league seasons to go at bare minimum, and these injury issues don't make things any better. For an 18 year old to be as high as Tabata is on everybody's radar is very special. I think that we'll see a quick rise out of Jose.

Comparison: Somewhere between Kirby Puckett and Brian Giles. Tabata is going to take more walks than Puckett (resulting in a higher batting average), but hit for less power than Brian Giles did in his prime (Giles also got on a very slow start to his career). We'll see how his home run stroke comes along in time.

My Take: Again, Tabata is the kind of prospect that my methods have trouble analyzing. His statistical pedigree is strong, especially when he remembers to take his walks. That said, I have to rely on a lot of people agreeing about his hitting projection. I think that position will determine a lot about Tabata's future. If he goes to a corner, I think that Tabata will have some all star years but won't be considered a top-5 player at his position. I think that Tabata could put up numbers not all that far from Bernie William's numbers in centerfield, or at the very least hit .310/.400/.520 every year. A year from now, we'll have a better picture of where Jose Tabata is going. I'd place my bets on a more optimistic outcome than otherwise.