Are we rushing Tabata to Pittsburgh?

In an effort to keep any good ideas from slipping through the cracks, I keep a list of potential writing topics on my phone. Sometimes, I never revisit a topic and it simply remains on the list for months. Left over from this past offseason is the entry “Case for Tabata.” I believe I jotted this down around the time some of the top prospect lists were being published by various websites. I felt that Jose Tabata was being undervalued since his trade to the Pirates, and wanted to back it up with some statistics, etc. Fast forward about three months and, at least in Pittsburgh, it seems as if Tabata is becoming a bit overhyped.

Yesterday, an article in the Tribune-Review stated that Tabata is “putting up big numbers for Triple-A Indianapolis and inching closer to the big club.” Tabata is certainly having an encouraging year at Indy, but I’m not sure a .786 OPS at Triple-A should be considered big numbers. He is hitting .316, but it is mostly empty batting average. His line is virtually identical to the one he posted in Double-A last year. Many fans expect him to be called up to Pittsburgh within a few weeks and inject some offense into the Pirates lineup. I just don’t see that happening.

Here are Tabata’s Major League Equivalent (MLE) numbers for 2010 (courtesy of Minor League Splits), along with the 2010 major league numbers for some players he could replace in the Pirates lineup.

 

2010 AVG OBP SLG
Jose Tabata MLE 0.284 0.325 0.376
Lastings Milledge 0.252 0.324 0.321
Garrett Jones 0.255 0.336 0.391
Jeff Clement 0.205 0.248 0.359

 

Tabata would probably provide a little additional power if he replaced Milledge. He would improve the team if Jones moved to first and Clement went to the bench. He would likely improve the defense to some degree by replacing any of these players. But would a .284/.325/.376 line really help the team all that much? Clement is the only player clearly performing worse than Tabata, and he can be replaced by Steve Pearce once he returns from the DL. Charlie noted yesterday that Kyle Stark and Neal Huntington can be stubborn with their promotions, citing their refusal to bring up Brad Lincoln despite an obvious need in the Pittsburgh rotation. I think this may come into play with Tabata.

I have always compared Tabata’s development to that of Andrew McCutchen a few years ago. Take a look at their stats side-by-side, particularly each player’s age 21 season at Triple-A.

 

Andrew McCutchen

Year Age Level PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% ISO
2007 20 AA 498 0.258 0.327 0.383 8.7% 18.3% 0.125
AAA 72 0.313 0.347 0.418 5.6% 16.4% 0.105
2008 21 AAA 590 0.283 0.372 0.398 11.5% 17.0% 0.115
2009 22 AAA 219 0.303 0.361 0.493 7.8% 11.9% 0.190
MLB 493 0.286 0.365 0.471 11.0% 19.2% 0.185
2010 23 MLB 214 0.313 0.380 0.469 9.3% 17.7% 0.156

 

Jose Tabata

Year Age Level PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% ISO
2009 20 AA 254 0.303 0.370 0.404 7.9% 11.0% 0.101
AAA 148 0.276 0.333 0.410 6.8% 13.4% 0.134
2010 21 AAA 211 0.316 0.370 0.416 7.6% 15.3% 0.100

 

Other than a higher batting average, Tabata is producing numbers very similar to those put up by McCutchen in his age 21 season. Both players were returning to Triple-A after a brief stint in the previous season. But the Pirates kept McCutchen at Indy for the entire year and half of the following season as well. It worked out splendidly, as McCutchen enjoyed considerable success as a 22-year-old, both in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

It was easy to let McCutchen fine-tune his skills at Triple-A in 2008. The Pirates had several established outfielders already in Pittsburgh, including Nate McLouth, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady. It was also becoming clear that the Pirates needed a major rebuild, and the team was a long way from potentially competing. The major league roster was about to be torn down, so being patient with a top prospect was a non-issue. But it is 2010 now. The roster demolition phase is complete. As fans, we are eager to see the pieces of a winning team start to arrive in Pittsburgh. Because of that, we have a tendency to view Tabata differently than did with McCutchen two years ago, even though their situations are very similar

Just because we as fans may have a distorted perception of Tabata’s current situation, don’t be sure the Pirates’ front office is seeing it the same. I would not be surprised if Tabata remains in Triple-A much longer than any of us expect.

Author: Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

Share This Post On