2006 Charleston Hitter Of The Year

Ben Jones had a monster season

Offensively, the Charleston team was loaded with young prospects with high upsides with several of them in their first full season at the professional ranks. While a majority of them made strides, in the end, the top hitting performance was turned in by a South Atlantic League veteran.

Third baseman Marcos Vechionacci finished the 2006 season strong after opening the year in the midst of his worst offensive stretch in his career. He hit just .178 with Tampa as the Yankees were adjusting his swing and approach at the plate before hitting .255 with seven home runs (second on the team) for Charleston.

"He's a young player, and right now actually, he's doing his work in the cages and doing his pre-game work," Tampa Hitting Coach James Rowson told us back in May during Vechionacci's 12-game hitless streak. "He's getting better. He's working on some mode process and some different things with his swing, so the results aren't showing every night in the game. Yet, he's getting better."

While Vechionacci found his stroke in Charleston later in the season, super utility-man Reegie Corona produced at the plate right from the get-go. After beginning the year on the bench, Corona hit his way into the everyday lineup after an injury to C.J. Henry and struggles by Mario Holmann opened the door for him.

"He's getting good pitches to hit," the former manager of the Riverdogs Coach Mosiello told us back in April. "He's really aggressive. He's doing a great job and he's swinging it real well."

Corona finished his time in Charleston batting .292 and his 26 stolen bases ranked second on the team despite not securing a full-time position in the Riverdogs lineup. He was leading the entire South Atlantic League in batting until a brutal July (.229) and an even worse August (.206) brought down his average.

Outfielder Austin Jackson, like Corona, began the 2006 season with a bang. He hit .321 in the first month of the season, but as expected for a teenager in his first full professional season, hit the proverbial wall as the year wore on.

He finished the year hitting .260 and led the team in runs scored (90), doubles (24), and stolen bases (37), but also had the most strikeouts as well (157).

"I definitely need to work on my plate discipline," the center fielder said in August. "Some of it may be the lack of experience, but I think a lot of it is putting pressure on myself because I expect to perform. I need to work on handling the pressure and thinking a little less."

While Vechionacci, Corona, and Jackson all had fine seasons in Charleston this year, uber-prospect Jose Tabata was having a breakout season for the Riverdogs until a thumb injury derailed his season in July.

Like Corona, Tabata was among the league-leaders in batting for a good portion of the season and it took an injury to finally cool off his hot hitting. Tabata finished the year hitting .298 and was leading the club in doubles (22) prior to going down with the thumb injury.

"It's baseball," former manager Bill Mosiello explained back in June. "You don't see too many .330 hitters. When you do, you know they are bound to have some struggles. I don't care if your 17 or 37, that's gonna' happen. He's human."

But while the young Yankee prospects - Vechionacci, Corona, Jackson, and Tabata - each made strides in their development this past year, all making a strong case to take home the honors, in the end, Ben Jones is the PinstripesPlus.com "2006 Charleston Hitter of the Year".

Like Vechionacci, Jones struggled in high-A Tampa at the beginning of the year. Unable to find consistent playing time behind eventual Florida State League Hitter of the Year Cody Ehlers, Jones was hitting just .125 in limited at-bats with Tampa before being sent down to Charleston.

"It's been tough on him because he had a heck of a year last year [in Charleston] and now he is back," Charleston Manager Bill Mosiello said of Jones upon his demotion. "He's handled things tremendously. At least here he knows he is going to play every day. They sent him here to have that chance. I think he is real happy to be here playing rather than not playing in Tampa."

Jones responded in a big way, hitting .298 with a team-high 21 home runs and 88 RBI for the Riverdogs. In fact, Jones accounted for nearly 35 percent of the team's home runs and he had 37 more RBI than the next highest total (Tabata ranked second on the team with 51 RBI) on the squad.

"He's very consistent," Mosiello explained. "Whether he has gone 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he brings the same approach to the game everyday. He's a great kid, the type of guy that doesn't say much but leads by example on the field."


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