Gil Working Hard

Jose Gil has improved his defensive game

Quality catching prospects are rare commodities. So when switch-hitter Jose Gil displayed a good eye and power potential in the GCL, the Yankees invited him to Major League camp as an extra catcher. His 2006 season started slowly, but he has begun to show the promise the Yankees tried to encourage.

"It was a good experience for me," Jose Gil said of the trip to big league camp. "I did get to work with [Jorge] Posada and [catching instructor Tony] Pena, mostly on technique. I didn't know that I was doing certain things wrong and they pointed them out to me. I know I can use those things at times when I need it. But I would love to go back and do it again. Hopefully this year, I'll go back to spring training camp with the big guys and stay there with them."

Speaking through interpreter Polo Burgos, Gil explained that he learned one important lesson in Major League spring training that he has taken to heart.

"The best advice anyone can ever give you is work hard," he said. "Keep playing and work hard and you'll make it to the top. The advice they gave me I look back on and I just want to make it back up there."

This principle has helped the young catcher move beyond a disappointing start to the season. Gil originally broke camp with the Charleston RiverDogs as their starting catcher, but struggled to hit just .189 over 74 at-bats. After a month in the South Atlantic League, he was demoted to the Staten Island Yankees.

"It's like everything else in this game," Gil said of his time in Charleston. "You have your ups and downs. In Charleston, I had one of those times when I wasn't doing well. I'm just going to keep working hard and try to move on. You can't sit down and dwell on the stuff that happened in the past. You have to keep working harder to learn from that."

Gil's struggles followed him to Staten Island. He started slowly and his average sunk as low as .136 on June 30th. He worked through it and has steadily raised his average to .245 on July 26th, after going 2-for-3 with a walk.

"I think he's making progress," manager Gaylen Pitts told PinstripesPlus. "He's starting to swing the bat a little bit better both ways. He had a little streak in there where he wasn't throwing very well, but I think his arm was a little tired. He was down in Extended Spring Training the whole time down there. So we gave him a couple of days off and he's been doing well. He's been making strides."

"He's made a lot of improvement since the first part of the season," hitting coach Ty Hawkins concurred. "He's done a great job of getting in the cage and working at it. I'm seeing that he's pretty locked into what he's working on. So it's a credit to him."

"I think he's got a little bit more confidence in what he's doing," continued Hawkins. "I think he feels a little more aggressive at the plate. He's taking that mindset to the plate with him right now. You could tell he was a little lost and didn't know what he was doing for the most part. But I think he has some clear objectives and he believes in it, so it helps him."

Gil's improvements have not been limited only to his offense. As a converted catcher, he is a more advanced hitter than defender, but catching instructor Julio Mosquera believes the young backstop is learning the finer points of the position quickly.

"He has improved a lot," Mosquera said. "He has a lot of tools. He's a good catcher overall. I've been working in all aspects of the game with him and he has made a big improvement from Spring Training when I saw him. He's been on stuff. He improved a lot in his receiving and his throwing mechanics, which he had before. He had the hands, but he was just getting caught up in himself. But now he's throwing the ball freer, which is good. You like to see guys make improvements."

"He's learning a lot," Mosquera added. "It's a learning process for all those guys [the catchers]. He has improved a lot in his pitch calling because we have a great pitching staff here and he seems that he can handle it. So, it's something that's going to help him develop game calling."

Gil was not surprised to learn that his coaches had noticed improvements, but is not content to settle for that progress.

"I've been working hard on both my defense and my offense," Gil admitted. "I'm like any other athlete in the game. I try to work hard as much as I can and they will see the improvement as time goes by. I'm happy with how I'm doing so far, but I want to improve more on my game. I'm always looking to challenge myself and make sure I don't let those things go back."

Manager Pitts has noticed a mechanical flaw in Gil's swing that could improve his game. He would like the catcher to focus on it because he believes it could lead to big results.

"I'd like to see him where he stands back more instead of drifting out on his front side," Pitts explained, "because when he goes out he just kind of serves the ball. And he's got a little power in him. So when he stays back and stays behind the ball, he can drive the ball in the gaps and hit the ball out of the park. So that's what I'd like to see: a more consistent approach."

Coach Hawkins agrees and believes that Gil has more power that can be tapped.

"His consistency in his swing and his approach is the key," Hawkins explained. "How he's getting to the ball will determine. He's a big, strong kid. So if he squares it up, he's going to drive it. It's just a matter of being more consistent."

Gil will work on both sides of his game, but he plans to focus his energies on the aspect that he thinks needs the most work.

"I'm probably going to work more on my defense than anything," Gil said of his plans for the second half. "I know that I can hit. I trust my bat. But I know that probably my weakness is defense. And I want to work on that to make sure it gets better."

Gil's efforts have brought him a long way in a month. While he still has plenty of work to do for the rest of the season, Manager Pitts is extremely pleased with what he has seen from Gil and fellow backstops Francisco Cervelli and Brian Baisley.

"I'm impressed with all the catchers," Pitts admitted. "I think all three of these guys have done a good job for us. I told them that today: ‘I think we have the best catching in the league. It doesn't matter how you start. It's how you finish.' But we're about half-way through and I don't want anyone to pinch hit for them."

That is a high compliment at a position where few players excel offensively. Gil's improvements this season have earned him respect as a complete catcher, but he has plenty of room to develop before he reaches his ceiling. If he does, Gil could find himself in Major League camp every year. All he needs to do, of course, is continue the hard work.

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