|Bautista a Late-Bloomer for Toronto||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on June 01, 2011
Over the last year and a half, one man has taken Major League Baseball by storm, and it's not Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Cabrera.
It's Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista.
Hard work and patience have paid off for the 30-year-old Bautista. Though he has figured himself out a little later than most players, the Dominican Republic product has shown no signs of slowing down his torrid pace.
While he is experiencing success now, Bautista's road included many stops along the way. He was drafted in the 20th round of the 2000 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2003 Rule 5 Draft and made his debut the next year.
Bautista set an MLB record in 2004, but it was not related to anything he did on the field. By the end of the season, he had been on five different teams. He began the year with Orioles but was claimed off waivers by the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He was then traded to the Kansas City Royals and to the New York Mets a month later. He was a Met for less than a day, as New York shipped him to the Pirates as part of the Kris Benson trade.
After a few mediocre seasons with the Pirates in a limited role, Pittsburgh dealt Bautista to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later, which wound up being catcher Robinzon Diaz.
Late in 2009, then Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston and current hitting coach Dwayne Murphy tweaked Bautista's swing. He had been using his shoulders too much, so his coaches suggested a new approach that emphasized quick hands.
The new swing worked well, as Bautista launched 10 home runs in his final 100 at-bats. His performance earned him a starting role for the first time in his career.
Last year, Bautista started off hot and never cooled down. He came into the year with 59 career home runs and almost matched that total, hitting 54 home runs. That mark set the Blue Jays single-season record, previously held by George Bell's 47 in 1987.
Naturally, questions of performance enhancing drugs were raised. How could a player who never hit more than 19 home runs in a season hit 54?
However, Bautista has never been connected with steroids. His case is simply an example of a player coming into his own a bit later in his career.
Bautista has already built on his stellar 2010 season. Through two months, he leads the AL in home runs (19), total bases (116), walks (41), runs scored (39), OBP (.492), SLG (.795) and is fourth in batting average (.342). Not bad numbers for a 20th-round pick.
Though last year he displayed his power, this year he has taken a more selective approach at the plate which has led to the higher OBP. His strikeouts are down, and he's hitting more line drives rather than deep fly balls. While many of these line drives wind up as home runs, Bautista's new relaxed approach has helped him become a better overall hitter.
In an era that has been dominated by pitching, Bautista continues to adjust, making him one of the most feared hitters in the game today. He's truly turned the corner in his career.
Rather than letting him test free agency in the near future, Toronto signed him to a five-year, $64 million contract. Though some analysts believed Bautista was a one-year wonder, he has quickly proven he's the real deal.
He's on pace to hit 64 HR this season. Even if he only reaches 50, he would be the sixth player in history to post back-to-back 50+ HR seasons. Besides Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey, Jr., the other three on the list (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez) were all connected to steroids.While Robinzon Diaz is playing Triple-A baseball for the Texas Rangers, "Joey Bats," as Bautista is aptly known, is tearing up the league. He's been a great story over the last year and a half, and fans of all teams find themselves rooting for his success.