Scouting Yanks Prospect #33: Justin Christian

Christian Is The Ideal Leadoff Hitter

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Frontier League in the summer of 2004, Justin Christian has made an immediate impact in the Yankees' farm system. With arguably the greatest speed in the system and one of the more polished all-around offensive games, Justin Christian ranks #33 among the Top 50 Yankees' prospects. Here's a scouting report on Justin Christian.

"If he was 20-years old instead of being 25, he'd be one of the top prospects in the game," a National League scout told PinstripesPlus.com of Justin Christian's ability. "Offensively, he's the ideal leadoff batter. He gets on base, hits the gaps consistently, and when he is on base, he just changes the pace and outcome of the game with his speed. He's one of the best offensive catalysts you'll find."

Anybody who watches Justin Christian play comes away impressed, whether they are sitting in the stands or playing with him or against him.

"He's a great player," fellow Tampa teammate John Urick told us. "He got a lot better defensively, but offensively, he's one of the best I've ever seen, especially with the way he can run. He's one of the best base stealers I've ever played with or against."

"He's just one of those guys you want to watch to see if he's going to steal or not," Urick continued. "He's a guy that will fire up your team and you need guys like that. When he was on base, you'd be licking your chops to get that RBI."

Aside from his blazing speed, which even the most untrained eye can't help but notice, Justin Christian's all-out hustle on the baseball field is equally as impressive. He's a throwback player cut in the mold of a Pete Rose, continually ending each game with the dirtiest uniform.

"His ceiling is unbelievable," Charleston teammate T.J. Beam told PinstripesPlus.com. "I haven't seen anybody play harder than him, ever! His uniform was always the dirtiest and he was just dead tired at the end of the every game."

It is Christian's go get 'em attitude and approach to the game that has players, coaches, and scouts alike excited about his upside at the Major League level, despite being widely considered a little too old for the levels he's played at since joining the Yankees' organization in the summer of 2004.

"For the most part I just play the game the way it should be played," Justin Christian told us. "I've always trusted in my abilities and what I can do. I've just been blessed to be able to have this opportunity to showcase some of the skills that I have. Just being able to play everyday has given me that opportunity to showcase those skills."

He completed his first full minor league season hitting a combined .303 with 32 doubles, 6 triples, 11 home runs, and 55 stolen bases in 62 attempts. Showing that he's a versatile hitter as well, Christian wound up hitting a team-high .367 with runners in scoring position, proving to be one of the better clutch hitters in the organization.

"When you get guys in scoring position, my approach changes a little bit," Christian told us. "Coach Mosiello, Joe, and Pat Roessler just really reiterated to me to make my mistakes on the ground. They want me to keep the ball on the ground. If the infield is back, they want me to keep the ball on the ground so give us an opportunity to get those runs in and utilize my speed to get on base."

"If you hit balls in the air, these guys up here are so good that they are going to catch pretty much anything hit in the air. So I just try to make my mistakes on the ground and drive balls down. I just look to hit line drives. And my concentration level is key. When you've got guys in scoring position it just seems the pitchers get tougher. You just see tougher pitches and I just try to stay as relaxed as I can and just trust in the ability that I have, and whatever happens, happens."

Showing an obviously mature approach at the plate, especially given his age for the levels he's played at thus far, Justin Christian was arguably the most consistent hitter in the entire Yankees' farm system in 2005. He never hit below .288 in any month this past season and only went hitless in back-to-back games seven times.

"If you take away "JC" [Justin Christian] from our team, our team average this past year would have been something like .240," John Urick said. "In the second half, he was a key element that allowed us to compete."

While some prospect followers will point to Justin Christian's age as a detriment, many in baseball don't let Christian's advanced age cloud their judgement of his future value at the Major League level.

"I don't know if this guy has a huge upside or not. I mean, I don't think there is too much more room for improvement. But I'd say Justin Christian," Tampa teammate Matt Carson listed as the player he believes will have the greatest Major League impact. "I just love watching him play. He's a game changer on the base paths and offensively, he's as close to being ready as you can be."

While pundits will point to Christian's age as a negative, many in the Yankees' organization and in baseball believe he'll fly through the organization and make it to the Major Leagues quickly.

"I think he's about as ready for the big leagues as I've played with," said John Urick.

"People don't look at him because he's so old, but he's going to be good in the Majors," Charleston teammate Jeff Marquez said confidently. "He kind of reminds me of Ryne Sandberg, that's how good I think he is and the reason we all call him 'J Sizzle', especially when he gets on base."

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2005 Tampa .306 372 27 8 37 52 38 33 47 .371 .476

2005

Charleston

.290

100

5

3

10

31

17

14

12

.393

.430

2004

Staten Island

.274

208

9

7

33

29

14

19

39

.336

.438

2004

Gulf Coast

.571

7

3

0

4

1

0

4

0

.727

1.000



Batting and Power. As a leadoff hitter with tremendous speed, Justin Christian is obviously not a power hitter. But as a leadoff hitter, he has very good power, especially to the gaps. In what is the equivalent of two minor league seasons, Christian has averaged over 40 extra-base hits and boasts a .317 career average as a professional. A patient hitter with great selectivity at the plate, he has enough juice to hit 12-15 home runs annually, rack up a ton of doubles and triples, all while hitting .300 or better.

Base Running and Speed. Justin Christian can flat out fly. He's one of the fastest players in the Yankees' farm system, a system that contains some of the fastest players in all of minor league baseball. He has averaged 57 stolen bases over the equivalent of two minor league seasons with a mind-boggling 87% success rate. He's a game-changer on the base paths.

Defense. He's a more than serviceable second baseman, boasting good range. However, many inside and outside the organization believe that he's not an everyday second baseman defensively at the Major League level. He has played some outfield and he does have a strong arm.

Projection. Offensively, Justin Christian is a guy that needs to be in the lineup everyday. He's a versatile hitter that can get on base and put himself into scoring position, but can also be a deadly clutch hitter when called upon. With Robinson Cano seemingly entrenched at the second base position for the foreseeable future, the Yankees are going to have to find ways to get Christian into the everyday lineup. He has the ability to play a few positions - second base, third base, and all three outfield positions. As a result, Justin Christian projects to be a super utility player at the Major League level that could see some time at designated hitter much like Chuck Knoblauch, who Christian compares to offensively, did in his time with the Yankees.

ETA. 2007. People look at Christian's age as a negative. Not every prospect makes their jump to Major League success at a young age. Justin Christian has the talent to have a Jason Bay-like ascension (won Rookie of the Year at 25 years old) to the Majors and while he could make his big league debut at some point in 2006, the Yankees are going to find it hard not to find a spot for him on the roster in 2007.

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