Entering spring training, it appeared all but given that Travis Snider would be given a long look as the Pittsburgh Pirates primary right fielder this season.
Apparently Jose Tabata didn’t get that memo.
Tabata looks like a different player this spring so far and is making sure he isn’t the forgotten man in the battle for the Bucs right field job.
Though it’s early in spring, gone is the lazy Tabata who has underachieved even since signing his contract extension in 2011. He has been replaced by a Tabata who shows off a ton of hustle and power at the plate.
Everyone is taking notice of the change, including the Pirates, as Tabata has likely already exceeded expectations this early into spring training.
Nothing explains that Tabata is a new man who is taking things seriously like a sequence Sunday in the Bucs’ 8-6 exhibition victory over the Houston Astros.
Tabata delivered what seems to be his daily extra-base hit- a two-run double with two outs in the second inning. He then did something that we have all but completely given up on- showed speed and hustle by scoring from second base on a ground ball to short from Clint Barmes. Tyler Greene’s throw barely bounced away from first baseman Brett Wallace, but by the time he picked the ball up, Tabata had shown great base running instincts and already crossed home plate.
Eye opening moments have become a daily ritual for Tabata this spring.
Could it be that he has finally taken his job seriously and is realizing that this could be his final shot?
“It was a little hard for me last year. I don’t know why — maybe because they gave me right field, and that made me feel comfortable,” Tabata told MLB.com’s Tom Singer. ”I know now I’ve got to be consistent every day, no matter what.
“I changed everything, and I feel great. I don’t know why, but I feel good. After the season, I wanted to prepare my body (the reason he skipped playing winter ball in his native Venezuela). You can see — well, maybe you can’t — the difference. I’m stronger. I opened up my batting stance. Last year, I was too closed. I didn’t have power.”
He’s a guy that only has a career .372 slugging percentage and has a season-high of only four homers in a season, but is attempting to change that, which is a welcome sight.
His resurgence also puts the Pirates in a difficult spot.
The organization really wants Snider to emerge as the team’s primary right fielder, but they are also considering the likes of: Clint Robinson, Jerry Sands, Alex Presley, Garrett Jones, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, and Brad Hawpe, who have all done some good things.
But if you are judging by March performance, Tabata has stood out the most, batting .308 with a .769 slugging percentage.
It’s awfully difficult to judge on spring training stats, but you have to like what Tabata has shown thus far.
Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle has spent over a year trying to get a message across to Tabata, even demoting him to Triple-A Indianapolis last year.
It may have taken a while, but maybe Tabata has finally received that message loud and clear.