While Jose Tabata is off to a hot start with Indianapolis, he still has a long way to go before he earns his way back to Pittsburgh.
Though Tuesday, Tabata is hitting .316, with a .757 OPS. While the numbers look good, it appears that he has dug himself too large of a hole to get out of with the organization.
While Tabata appeared to work his way out of favor last season with a lack of hard work, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington likes what he has seen out of the outfielder so far this season.
“We were aggressive with [Tabata] and what we believed he needed to do to get back to the big leagues, and he’s working hard to make that adjustment and has played very well for [Indianapolis] and importantly he’s played hard,” Huntington said on Sunday. “He’s running well for them against and he’s showing up every pitch and getting after it.”
With Indianapolis, Tabata has run out about every single ground ball, which is something that has not always been the case in the past. It is something that is subtle, but part of what has gotten him in trouble in the past.
After playing in 80 games last season with in Pittsburgh, Tabata found himself in Indianapolis and off the 40-man roster. This season started with him in the same role.
While he is not completely in the long-term plans, Huntington said that he sees Tabata as a big league player again eventually. The only question is whether that’s with the Pirates.
After first reaching the Triple-A level in 2009, it appeared Tabata had a big future in the majors. After spending time with Indianapolis in the following season, Tabata also played in 102 games with the Pirates and hit .299 and stole 19 bases to kick off his career.
However the strikeout to walk ratio has been an issue for Tabata in the past. Even that has been solved somewhat this season, as Tabata has nine walks and eight strikeouts in 76 at-bats coming into Tuesday night. A bigger issue has been too many weak ground balls. That’s not improving so far, with Tabata going from 55% last year to 59% so far this year.
“We’ve been very open with Jose that, while we hope his return to the big leagues is with us, he’s a guy that may need to get somebody else’s attention and have somebody come get him to get back to the big leagues,” Huntington said. “If that happens, we’ll be happy for him. If it happens here, that’s a great thing for us as well.”
While Huntington would be pleased if a suitor came to get Tabata, the market just isn’t there. They dangled the bait the past couple of seasons with a pair of DFA’s, but the fact is that Tabata is still making $4 million this season. He will make $4.5 M next season, and a $250,000 buyout after that. Every team passed on taking on his contract for free. The Pirates would have to pay teams to take him, and that would make much sense.
With the outfield depth in the system, it just doesn’t look in the cards for Tabata to get a shot in Pittsburgh. The best case scenario for the Pirates is if the quality of play continues enough to get someone to take him off their hands, while taking some of the salary with the move.