José Tábata, born August 12, 1988, in Anzoategui, Venezuela, was inked by the New York Yankees in 2004 at the tender age of 16 for $550K. He was highly thought of from the get-go, considered to be one of those rare five-tool players almost unanimously by scouts. And by 2008, he had become the Yankees' Number 2 prospect, according to Baseball America.
At the age of 17 and in his first year of American pro ball (he spent his sixteen year-old season in the DSL), Tábata led the Yankees farm system in batting average, hitting .314/.382/.417 for the Gulf Coast Yankees in 2005.
In 2006, Tábata batted .298/.377/.420 for the Low A Charleston RiverDogs of the Sally League. He was selected as a member of the All-Star Futures Game as a member of the World Team. The game was part of the 2006 All-Star Game at PNC Park, and he played center field while going 1-for-3 with a single off fellow Yankees farmhand Phil Hughes.
He was hit on the right wrist later in the season, ending his year. The wrist would continue to bother him throughout 2007, and he finally had the hamate bone removed in August of that year. He was still having problems with it into early 2008.
In 2007, Tábata played for the High-A Tampa Yankees, where he hit .307/.371/.392, and was assigned to AA Trenton to begin 2008.
The Yankees started to wonder about his mental makeup after he was suspended twice that summer.
Tabata first lost three games for leaving a contest without the team's permission. A short while later, he either was yanked after he didn't back up Austin Jackson in the outfield, or got into a shoving match inside the dugout. Either way, it cost him more time.
Even before those incidents, some scouts claimed that Tabata coasted through many games, playing hard only as the spirit moved him. Copping a 'tude, especially in a tradition-laden organization like the Yankees, probably torpedoed any career plans he had to pull on the pinstripes.
On July 26, 2008, Tábata was part of the return, along with Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen, when Xavier Nady and Dámaso Marte went to the Big Apple.
He moved from AA Trenton to Altoona, and during the year his line was .277/.345/.388.
Tabata started 2009 with the Curve, and got a late call to Indy. He started off slowly, then missed nearly two months with a late April hamstring injury (he also missed time in 2008 with a pull). His combined line last year was .293/.357/.406. In five minor league seasons, he's compiled a .295/.364/.402 line.
Tabata finished the year in the Arizona Fall League, where he raked, hitting .392/.448/.517, and was added to the forty-man roster on November 11th.
His maturity level, questioned by the NYY, seemed just fine here. In March of 2009, Tábata's wife, Amalia Tábata Pereira, was arrested and charged with kidnapping a 2-month-old girl in Florida.
In what could have been a springboard to personal disaster, Tabata instead handled himself well, and had a problem-free 2009 season. A combination of being a little older, speaking and understanding English a bit better, and being out of the New York media splash have contributed to his maturity.
The guy some scouts compared to Manny Ramirez ain't quite there yet. The most noticeable difference is that Tabata has never hit more than eight home runs in any minor-league season, certainly an un-Manny stat.
Some people think he's a line-drive hitter whose swing is built to crank out doubles and top out as a 12-15 homer guy; others believe that his stronger base (he's put on 50 pounds since the Yankees found him in 2004; he's 5'-11" and 215 pounds now) and complete recovery from hamate surgery will make him a potential 30 HR guy.
His speed is good, but Tabata hasn’t stolen 20 or more bases since leaving the GCL in 2005. His speed has decreased a bit as his lower body has gotten heavier, and last year was his poorest showing on the basepaths, stealing just eleven bases in nineteen tries (58%).
Still, he runs well enough that he's played plenty of center field, although he projects to be a corner outfielder when he reaches the show. He's gotten time in right because of his plus arm, although PNC's left field would seem a natural spot for him.
Tabata turned 21 in August. His first three or four pro season saw him playing as one of the youngest guys at his level, and with little command of English to help him along.
He hits for average, has a good OBP, an above-average arm, above-average speed, and plays above-average defense. The power question is still up in the air, although we don't think he's going to end up a big bopper. All in all, maybe not five tools, but a plus player in almost every aspect of his game. He's close to winding his Major League clock.
Jose Tabata is scheduled to start the year in Indy. He could be up as soon as June, time enough to get his feet wet and still avoid Super Two arbitration status.
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