All off-season we heard about how Pedro Alvarez, Brad Lincoln, and Jose Tabata would likely be with the major league team in June 2010. The only promotion from that group I was skeptical about was Tabata. It’s not that I don’t like Tabata. Actually, the opposite is true. Tabata was my number two prospect in the system in my top 50 prospects list. I was shocked when he missed the cut for the Baseball America top 100 list before the season. I’m one of few people who still thinks Tabata can hit for power as he grows older and matures.
I was looking at precedent with Tabata, specifically Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen played his first full season at the AAA level at the age of 21, after spending 67 at-bats at the level the previous season. McCutchen fared well, hitting for a .283 average, with a .372 on-base percentage. The big problem was that he wasn’t exactly lighting up the level, and his power, with a .398 slugging percentage, wasn’t very impressive.
Despite having plenty of room for McCutchen following the Jason Bay and Xavier Nady trades, the Pirates held him back. He remained in AAA the rest of the season, and started at the level again in 2009. In his first two months he hit for a .303/.361/.493 line, with the significant difference being the increase in power.
When the consensus was that Tabata would be in the majors by June, just because he was starting the year at the AAA level, I pointed to McCutchen. Like McCutchen, Tabata spent some time in AAA before his first full season. His first full season, this year, is at the age of 21, also like McCutchen. Of course it won’t be a full season if he gets called up in June, but you get what I’m saying.
I didn’t think Tabata was a lock to be in the majors in June, and that it would depend on his numbers at the time, specifically the power numbers. Now we find ourselves in an interesting situation with Tabata’s numbers, especially with June approaching.
Tabata is currently hitting for a .344/.409/.451 line at the AAA level in 122 at-bats. Those are some outstanding numbers, and definitely worthy of a promotion for most players. However, Tabata has just two homers, and a very high BABIP, about 60 points above his career average, which suggests his current average is a bit high. I don’t think Tabata will sustain this current pace, although I don’t expect anything less than his 2009 Altoona numbers. However, let’s assume he maintains the same pace. What do you do?
Tabata currently looks like an Andrew McCutchen clone, although he’s hitting better than McCutchen was at the same age in AAA. Tabata isn’t hitting many home runs, but is getting a lot of extra base hits, and is tearing up the base paths with 17 steals in 19 attempts. Is that good enough for Tabata? I’d certainly take an Andrew McCutchen clone on the team. In fact, I’d take eight of them and hope the National League adopts the DH rule.
That said, Tabata is ahead of where McCutchen was when he was 21 and in AAA. McCutchen saw a big boost after a full season at the AAA level, seeing his slugging percentage jump almost a hundred points. If McCutchen can add that type of power at the age of 22, wouldn’t it also be possible for Tabata to do the same? I think so. Therefore, do you call Tabata up in June, and potentially settle for Andrew McCutchen type numbers? Or do you wait it out and hope he improves on those numbers at the age of 22, giving the Pirates a possible star player?
There’s nothing that says Tabata couldn’t make those improvements in the major leagues. The only problem with that is you may run in to an Aramis Ramirez situation. Ramirez was doing well in AAA at the ages of 20-22, but was called up to the majors at the age of 20, and spent parts of the next three seasons in the majors, while spending time in AAA. Ramirez had a breakout season, but didn’t reach his potential, with consistent star performances until the age of 26. By then he was with the Cubs, thanks to the horrible Bobby Hill trade, although he would have been eligible for free agency after that season had he been retained.
If Tabata is called up in June, and remains in the majors, he will be eligible for free agency at the age of 27, right when he’s entering his prime. Would you rather call him up in 2010 and let him finish his development in his first few major league seasons, or would you give him an extra year in the minors, potentially buying an extra year of his prime, and avoiding wasting one of his early years on development in the majors?
It’s a gamble if you wait until next year. There’s the possibility that Tabata becomes another Andrew McCutchen, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The gamble would be to wait, and hope he becomes something more than that. It might not pay off in the short term, but it could pay off huge in the long term in Tabata does develop some home run power. Is that a gamble you’d be willing to take?
Considering the current offensive woes of the Pirates, I pretty much know how the following poll will go, but I’m going to post it anyways to give you guys a chance to answer the question above. Personally I’m not sure how I would vote on this, although I’m going to try to avoid letting the current need for offense influence my decision on what is best for Tabata’s situation.