De La Rossa Sharpens His Tools

De La Rossa is improving his all-around game

After three seasons in the Dominican Summer Leagues, Wilkins De La Rossa put his game together in the GCL last year. After starting slowly with the Charleston RiverDogs, De La Rossa has taken his tools to Staten Island, where he'll patrol centerfield for the Baby Bombers.

"I felt good about being over there [in Charleston] but they brought me over here [to Staten Island], so I had to make the best of it," said De La Rossa, through interpreter Marvin Burgos.

With centerfielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Jose Tabata forging All-Star campaigns in Charleston, De La Rossa, Estee Harris, and Jonathan Poterson had to share left field. At times, De La Rossa played a bench role, serving only as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, but he would not blame his struggles on irregular playing time.

"No, that wasn't a problem," De La Rossa said. "I tried, but the team wants me to be a pinch-runner. I've got to do the best that I can and try to make the team go somewhere."

When Tim Battle moved down to Charleston to start in left field, the Yankees sent De La Rossa back to Extended Spring Training, and eventually to Staten Island, to continue to develop his raw ability.

"I focused on things that I was not very good at [in Extended Spring Training]," De La Rossa said. "I tried to make that better so that when the team wants me to do that specific thing, that I'll have had practice at it."

Most of De La Rossa's work had to with his hitting, as he hit only .228 in Charleston with 21 strikeouts.

"I practiced the most in batting because that was the thing that I needed the most help," he said. "I learned the mechanics of batting and how batting was useful to the game."

Staten Island manager Gaylen Pitts was impressed by De La Rossa when he got his first look at him. Pitts thinks his centerfielder mostly needs to focus on pitch selection to avoid his high strike out totals.

"I had him in Extended Spring Training for the last month," Pitts said. "I like his tools. He's got a plus arm, plus speed. The main thing he's got to do is make more contact. To hit for contact, put the ball in play, so he can run a little bit.

"I just put him up there [in the lead-off spot] so maybe he'll take a few pitches because he's got a tendency to swing at bad balls sometimes," Pitts continued. "And I thought maybe being in the lead-off spot he'd be a little more disciplined, maybe bunt a little bit and hit to the right a little bit."

Both Pitts and hitting coach Ty Hawkins believe De La Rossa has the talent to succeed, as long as he continues to work at it.

"I think he's got a lot of ability, both as a defender and a hitter," Hawkins said. "We're going through some things right now that objectively we have in place as a hitting program and I think if he can carry it out, he'll be fine."

"He's got a good approach to hitting," said Pitts. "He's going to be okay. I like his tools."

While De La Rossa has seen some early results. Going into Sunday's contest, he is hitting .350 on the season, including five hits in his last 10 at-bats. So far his hits have all been singles, but the wiry De La Rossa does have power potential.

"I think he can put up some power stats," said Pitts. "He's got the quick hands. The ball jumps off his bat. I don't want him to think that way, because that's not what's going to get him to the higher [level] balls, if power is simply his whole game. His game right now is putting the ball in play and not striking out. Just getting on base. But he's capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, no doubt about it."

Coach Hawkins does not think De La Rossa will ever be a big power hitter, but believes "he could be a 10 home run guy."

Another aspect of his game that De La Rossa will work on in Staten Island is his base-stealing ability. The speedy outfielder only stole seven bases last year, but Pitts will expect his centerfielder to swipe more this year.

"I want him to run," Pitts said. "He's on his own and we won't stop him. That's what we're trying to do. Be aggressive and if they're giving us a chance take it, we're going to try to take it. I don't care if he gets thrown out. If he's being aggressive and trying to pick pitches to go, that's what I want him to do. I want him to go."

De La Rossa stole his first base on Thursday and does not have a problem swiping more this year.

"I felt comfortable stealing the base and that's something that I always feels comfortable with," De La Rossa said.

One aspect of De La Rossa's game that does not need much work is his defense. "He can go get ‘em in the outfield," said Pitts. "He can play center. He can play right and left. He's going to play center because he's the best one to do it."

Because of Tabata and Jackson's presence on the GCL Yankees last year, De La Rossa played mostly right field and based on his splits, he took to that spot. He hit .298 when playing right and just .247 in left or center. De La Rossa does not think his spot in the outfield makes a difference, though, and has settled into his new position.

"I don't think it [his outfield position] affects my batting," De La Rossa said. "Because one thing is defense and the other thing is offense and I feel differently about both on both sides. And that doesn't affect the way I bat or anything. I feel comfortable playing any outfield, but now I feel more comfortable playing centerfield since they put me there."

De La Rossa will see most of his playing time in center, but occasionally he will play other positions that could help him down the road.

"He might play a little right, because he might play right in the big leagues," Pitts said. "[Seth] Fortenberry can play center. I think he'd be the only other option to play center because I know he's played it before. So, yeah, we might move him around a little bit."

Wherever the team-oriented De La Rossa plays, his goals for the season remain the same.

"I want to make the team better," De La Rossa said. "I want to try to make it to the playoffs and get my numbers up. And try to go for the best thing possible."

For him and the Yankees, the best thing possible is for De La Rossa to realize his vast potential.

* Special thanks to Marvin Burgos for his help in translating.

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