P.J. Pilittere hit .394 in the Arizona Fall League
P.J. Pilittere had a career year with the Tampa Yankees this past season, hitting .302 in the pitching-friendly Florida State League. The Yankees rewarded him with a trip to the Arizona Fall League and he responded well by hitting .394 with the Peoria Saguaros, proving he could hold his own against the top minor leaguers.
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"I thought I did well when given the chance," P.J. Pilittere said of his performance in the AFL. "I wasn't necessarily the everyday guy. It [playing time] kind of gets split up amongst three different catchers on every team. So I didn't have a huge number of AB's, but I don't think that's why the Yankees sent me there."
"It wasn't for AB's. It was just to kind of see where I stacked up, of where I stood up against some quality minor league players. My personal assessment is, in this game you can always do better, but I thought I did pretty well and I held my own."
After hitting .366 with runners in scoring position in the Florida State League, he posted a .429 average with runners in scoring position in the Arizona Fall League, which can only help the defensive-minded catcher in making a statement to the Yankees offensively.
He spent his first two professional seasons in Staten Island and slowly started to show some offensive potential in his second season, hitting .250 with four home runs and helping his team win the NY-Penn League Championship.
Perhaps growing a bit more confident at the plate, he got his average over the .300 mark in 2006 and he credits a lot of his success to the coaching staff in Tampa, citing the fact they were able to keep the team motivated and keeping the atmosphere fun at the ballpark each day.
But while the coaching staff did their part, Pilittere admits he has incorporated a different and more simpler approach at the plate these days.
"Baseball is always a game where you're never going to be satisfied if you have a great year or if you don't have a great year," said Pilittere, who turns 25-years old on Thanksgiving Day. "But I definitely took the mindset this year it was a year to prove some things. My first two seasons were kind of a disappointment, although on the heels of my second season we won a NY-Penn League Championship, which was exciting. I kind of took it upon myself as a year to prove."
"I went about everyday just trying to have that mentality of trying not to give away as many at-bats as I had in years past," he admitted. "I always like to talk about that with my teammates and coaches. I just wanted to cut down on the number of at-bats I gave away, where I got myself out pretty much. I think that was a big thing for me, finding a way to concentrate a little more, stay focused, and getting into those routines helped me out through the course of the year."
Improving his offensive game is key for a defensive-minded catcher, even for one who has struggled gunning down runners at times.
"I think I'm okay when it comes to game calling, blocking, framing, working with the staff, that's all stuff I take a lot of pride in," he said. "As far as throwing, I'm constantly working on it. If you talk to anybody they'll constantly say P.J. needs to work on his throwing."
"You're only given your God-given arm strength so it's going to be tough to get more there, but like I said, the thing I'm working on to get my game to the next level is consistency in my work and delivery in my throws to second base."
As great a teammate as he is, and as solid his overall defensive game has been, there isn't much call for a light-hitting, defensive-minded catcher with limited arm strength at the big league level, which is why his offensive performance the last calendar year is so significant.
One of the most intelligent ball players in the organization, possessing the kind of smarts that are a prerequisite for a managerial job someday, Pilittere knows his limitations but continues to work hard overcoming them.
"To take my game to the next level, offensively, staying even more consistent than I was this past year," he listed as what's needed to move up the ladder, "[and] maybe develop a little more power that is slowly coming. I'm actually starting to get a little bit more power back in my stroke. Basically consistency with hitting is what I need."
A humble guy by nature and not giving himself enough credit, almost to a fault, Pilittere didn't hit below .288 in any given month this past season with the Tampa Yankees and no higher than .305, so he already has become a bit more consistent than he lets on.
"Defensively, I think the Fall League was huge because I got to work with some different pitchers and work with some different coaches and see how to call a game from some different angles and some different ways."
"Hitting, for me to get to the next level, it's going to take extreme consistency and defensively it's a willingness to always learn and work. You've got to work hard and you've got to give it your all behind the plate. That's first and foremost, my main responsibility."
Proving he can hold his own against some of the top competition minor league baseball has to offer, while he won't come out and actually say the words, P.J. Pilittere has proven he deserves to move up.
"I've kind of adopted this mentality of I can't really control what's going to happen to me as far as moving up the ladder or where I'm going to be slated next year or the following year," said the grounded backstop. "All I can control is myself and how I can show up mentally and physically to play and how I perform on the field."
"I like to tell myself you can always control your attitude and the effort you give everyday. I just tell myself if I play as hard as I can and play as well as I know I can, things should eventually work out like they did this year."
His attitude and work ethic makes him one of the easier players to root for and they are the reasons why he can't be written off as a potential reserve catcher at the big league level someday.
"I've got goals. Hopefully I'll get moved to the next level. My goal is to honestly be wherever I'm at, to be healthy for the entire season, stay consistent, hopefully keep progressing and making improvements in all areas of my game and hopefully that will put me where I want to be," he concluded.
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