| Sports

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Tabata looks to break out after injury-plagued 2011

Pirates/MLB Videos

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Pirates podcasts

  • Loading...

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Monday, March 12, 2012

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Sometimes when he is batting, Jose Tabata will let a pitch go by for a called strike because it's not quite what he wants. Then he'll turn toward the Pirates dugout and smile.

Everyone on the bench knows what will happen next. If the next pitch is another strike, Tabata will pounce and shoot it back up the middle for a hit.

"When Jose is locked in, he's almost able to play around with the pitcher," center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "It's almost to the point where he's joking. He's that type of player. He's capable of doing some great things."

The thing is, Tabata has yet to do it for a full season. A midseason call-up, he played in 102 games in 2010. Last year injuries limited Tabata to 91 games.

When he finally is able to go start to finish, Tabata could have a breakout year. No one is sure yet just how high his ceiling could be.

"I'm not going to go there," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I just want to see the guy have a full, healthy season. He's got skills. The challenge is to take those skills and transform them into consistent, productive play over a full season. That's the challenge in front of every young player."

Tabata is only 23 years old, but he has packed a lot of experiences — not all good — into the past few years. He has been a rising star and a fallen prospect with the New York Yankees. He learned to fit in with the Pirates' system after being traded. His ex-wife was arrested during spring training in 2009 and later was jailed for abducting an infant. Last season he was shifted from left to right field.

Through it all, Tabata kept flashing glimpses of his potential.

"He's a hard-working guy, and he's very confident," outfielders coach Luis Silverio said. "If he stays healthy, he's going to be an exciting player."

The front office certainly believes in his potential — Tabata signed a $15 million contract extension in August that could keep him in Pittsburgh through 2019.

"The past is the past," Tabata said. "It's a fresh start. I feel more relaxed because I know I'm going to be here for a lot of years. I feel more comfortable, absolutely. I'm ready."

When the Pirates acquired Tabata in 2008, there was a lot of talk about his power potential. He has gone deep just eight times in 739 at-bats, but there is still time for Tabata's home run ability to blossom.

"Remember, he's a young player, and he's still learning what he can do," Silverio said. "Early last year he hit a couple home runs to straightaway center. After that, he started changing his swing a little bit. But he's not that (kind of hitter) yet. He'll get stronger and get better knowledge of the strike zone, then he'll hit for more power."

McCutchen envisions Tabata being a different sort of hitter.

"He is a potential well-over-.300 hitter with a .400 on-base percentage," McCutchen said. "He knows that as the No. 1 or 2 guy (in the batting order), he doesn't need to step into the box trying to hit home runs. He knows his job is to get on base and let the people behind him drive him in."

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.




Show commenting policy

Most-Read Pirates

  1. Pirates’ Burnett endures another poor start in blowout loss to Reds
  2. Pirates bolster bullpen by trading for former closer Soria
  3. Pirates notebook: Blanton introduced; Worley designated for assignment
  4. Gameday: Pirates at Reds, July 31, 2015
  5. Pirates acquire pitcher Blanton from Royals for cash
  6. Pirates notebook: Prospect Tucker unaware of ‘trade’ frenzy
  7. Pirates notebook: Melancon bails out Watson with extended outing
  8. Gameday: Pirates at Reds, July 30, 2015
  9. Gameday: Pirates at Twins, July 29, 2015
  10. Kang’s 9th-inning home run gives Pirates wild victory over Twins
  11. Pirates’ Liriano unaffected by poor last outing against Twins