Jackson is one of many who have hit the "wall"
For a team whose lineup could be mistaken for a list of top Yankee prospects, the Charleston RiverDogs as a whole have done little to live up to the hype thus far as the positional players are showing their youth. A roster that has included the names Tabata, Jackson, Poterson, Henry, Battle, Nunez, and Vechhionacci throughout the season has barely been able to stay above 500.
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The prospect-laden lineup is hitting just .252, which is 9th out of the 16-team South Atlantic league. The pitching staff, which contains older fringe-prospect type players, started off so well, putting up some of the best numbers in all of baseball, but has fallen to mediocrity the past few months, now ranking 7th with a 3.61 era.
Many of the position players are struggling to adapt to full season ball. Last year’s first round draft pick, shortstop C.J. Henry, started the season off on the wrong foot. After an extended trip on the DL due to a hamstring injury, Henry returned in good form and bumped his average all the way up to .295, but when the dog days of summer rolled around, he began to struggle.
Henry has been hovering around .220 the past few months and has now settled in at .237 with 33 RBI, 30 runs, two home runs, and 86 strikeouts. Consistency has been his main problem, especially in the field where he has shown flashes of brilliance but also has struggled with routine plays, routine throws, and trying to make the spectacular happen.
Henry has racked up a total of 24 errors in 55 games at shortstop. Yankee fans can only hope that Henry is the second coming of Derek Jeter, who totaled 57 errors in 128 games during his first year of full-season baseball.
“You can see why the Yankees made him their first-round draft pick,” RiverDogs play-by-play announcer Josh Maurer commented. “The guy has a lot of raw ability, but he is definitely rough around the edges and will need a bunch of work. I really think he is going to make it, though it may take a lot of work."
“In the long run though, these struggles he’s going through will help him, it’s gonna’ make him work even harder. I like his ability all around and I think he’ll be fine.”
Jose Tabata, who at 17 years of age is widely considered one of the top three prospects in all the Yankees system, has been the only Charleston prospect to show consistency throughout the season. Tabata was a hitting machine the first two months of the season, hovering around .350 with 38 RBI. But it was the same story with Tabata - at the end of May, he fell into a slump that lowered his batting average around the .310 mark.
Tabata began to go away from his bread and butter of spraying line drives to right center and started trying to yank the ball to left. He might have been a little self-conscious about his power numbers, which aren’t eye-popping in the home run department. Luckily, he realized he’s just 17 in a league of 20 year olds. He put a stop to his struggles and has balanced out at .303 with 51 RBI, 50 runs, five home runs, and 64 strikeouts.
“You have to keep in mind that if this guy was American, he would have just finished his junior year of high school,” Maurer explained. “And the fact that he is in the league leaders in all of these categories is incredible.
“I had heard a lot about him before the season started and he has exceeded my expectations. I don’t see any reason why he won’t be a great pro if he wants to be. When it comes to baseball, the guy is just mature beyond his age.”
Tabata was placed on the DL on July 21st with an undisclosed injury, and there is no time table for his return. If he returns somewhat quickly and continues to put up these solid numbers, Tabata’s season can definitely be considered a tremendous success.
The third prospect that has been with the club since the start of the season is centerfielder Austin Jackson. After being lured away from a Georgia Tech basketball scholarship with a signing bonus of $800,000, Jackson started off the season just like Tabata, hitting .321 in the first month.
But just like his teammates, he hit a wall after initial success. He was hitting between .300 and .289 by the end of May and in the league leaders in runs scored. But in June he hit .225 and lowered his average all the way to .257. He has been steady since then and kept his numbers around his present board of .260 with 40 RBI, 72 runs, 110 strikeouts, and 30 stolen bases.
“I don’t know if he projects as a leadoff hitter, but I like his attitude and approach at the plate,” Maurer told PinstripesPlus.com. “The guy is very consistent in the field and he doesn’t let his at-bats follow him into the field."
“Talent wise he is just about there, I mean he doesn’t have any single eye-popping tools, but he is definitely solid all around. Hitting .260 in his first full season isn’t bad, and his fall-off is probably due to the long season.”
Jackson has shown great play as Charleston’s everyday centerfielder with just two errors in 96 games. He hasn’t shown much power, but that will come with time as he adds weight to his wiry frame. The strikeouts are a bit alarming, but considering he has manned the leadoff spot in 98 of Charleston’s 102 games, he has seen a lot of pitches during his 381 at-bats. His play and the fact that he has avoided the DL makes his season a success so far.
The other prospects have had fairly mediocre seasons. Jonathan Poterson struggled to hit .200 and was sent back to Extended Spring Training. Tim Battle and Marcos Vechionacci returned to Charleston from Tampa in mid-May after initially receiving a step up the latter when they were assigned after spring training. They have both shown inconsistency and the same results as last season.
Eduardo Nunez was surprisingly sent to Tampa at the beginning of the season, but, after struggling there, he was sent to Charleston with Battle and Nacci in mid-May. Nunez has struggled as well, but considering he just turned 19 this past month, he has plenty of time to turn things around.
“Those guys who were demoted probably just weren’t ready for the Florida State league,” Maurer commented. “Spending another year here will be beneficial so that they can work on some things. This is not a wasted year at all, it is more beneficial than anything else. Plus spending that time at Tampa will help them out next year, they’ll know what to expect.”
The one thing that all Yankee fans have to remind themselves is that all of these guys are young, with a few of them in their first full professional seasons. Keep a positive mindset when it comes to these players and it will pay off when they succeed.
There have been some great success stories this season. Reegie Corona hit his way into the lineup, and at 19 is definitely a legit prospect. He was leading the SAL in batting average but has fallen off lately, but hopefully he can find it again.
Ben Jones was sent back to Charleston after succeeding last year. He was struggling to find that same success in Tampa, but recaptured it here and leads the R-Dogs with 12 home runs. Chris Malec was consistently hitting around .300, which led to a promotion to Tampa where he has continued his consistent play.
With the current group of RiverDogs just two games over .500, making the playoffs would be tough to say the least. But if this group of prospects can put it together, there’s no telling what could happen.
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