By Bob Hurst
Bautista made a splash last season, coming out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the most feared sluggers in the game. That after being branded as a utility player with not much of a future left.
The big numbers last year earned Bautista a contract extension worth $64 million over five years with the Toronto Blue Jays. Would it be worth it?
So far, so good.
Bautista went into Tuesday’s game leading the majors with 20 homers along with 41 RBIs. A .251 career hitter, the Jays’ right fielder was batting .346, which was second in the majors.
He also was leading all players with a .496 on-base percentage, a .730 slugging percentage and 53 walks.
Bautista hit six home runs in five games from May 10-15 against Boston and Minnesota, giving him 63 homers since May 15, 2010, 22 more than Albert Pujols hit in the same time.
“It is somewhat gratifying, knowing that a lot of people were skeptical about what happened last year,” Bautista told the Washington Post last week. “I guess I’m proving them wrong.”
A lot of teams have been skeptical of Bautista since he was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 20th round of the Amateur Draft in 2000. He was drafted again by Baltimore in the 2003 Rule 5 Draft.
Then in 2004, Bautista had to keep his suitcase packed. He was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay on June 3 and purchased by Kansas City on June 28. At the trade deadline on July 30, Bautista was sent from the Royals to the Mets, who then dealt him to the Pirates.
And in 2008, the native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was traded to Toronto for catcher Robinzon Diaz. He wore the journeyman label well back then.
To add insult to injury, here’s how Bautista was described by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2010 season:
“Bautista has some value as a reserve, but he’s woefully overextended as a starter. (He’ll) take his walks and has 15-homer power. These skills are completely undermined by his complete inability to hit for average (.238 career).”
But things had already started to change for the better for Bautista. His power picked up late in the 2009 season.
Blue Jays batting coach Dwayne Murphy said Bautista had been getting beaten by inside fastballs and needed to develop a shorter, more direct swing. He stood closer to the plate, tracked the ball longer, used his wrists more and timed his leg kick with the pitch.
The results have been outstanding.
“It’s the timing of everything,” Bautista told the Post. “I start (the swing) earlier. I can see the ball better and attack the ball before it gets too deep in the strike zone.”
Bautista, 30, doesn’t have King Kong size, but he’s not small either at 6-0, 195 pounds. And although Major League Baseball appears to be climbing out of its steroid-era nightmare, eyebrows are still raised when someone has a sudden surge in power.
But Bautista has not tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. He has not violated MLB’s drug policy.
After his three-homer game against the Twins on May 15, Bautista said:
“I guess this one of the hottest streaks I’ve ever had in my life. I’m seeing the ball well and connecting good. Hopefully I can keep this going for a while.”
Bautista has been in sort of a homer slump since then, knocking just four balls out of the park, and only one in his last 13 games through Monday’s contest against the Royals. But he also had 15 hits and nine RBIs in that span.
If anything, Bautista has proven himself somewhat human again. He might not hit 54 home runs this season, and won’t set the long-ball record considering he has just 133 career homers. But Bautista’s story of making a few adjustments in his swing mixed with some perseverance gives hope to any player with some potential.
Copyright © 2011 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.