|Born: August 12, 1988
Height: 5′ 11″
Signed: Int. FA, New York Yankees, 2004
How Acquired: Trade (for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte)
Agent: Jeff Fannel
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|The Pirates obtained Tabata, along with pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen, from the Yankees for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. The deal was widely characterized at the time, by broadcasters and fans who judge these things entirely by name recognition, as a hosing of Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington in his first significant deal. Instead, the deal turned out to be just the opposite. While Nady and Marte did little for the Yankees besides get hurt, Ohlendorf, Karstens and McCutchen all had some, albeit inconsistent, success pitching for the Pirates, and Tabata seemingly established himself in the team’s outfield.
Tabata was very highly regarded from the time the Yankees signed him. He was considered to have five tool potential, with good speed, a very good bat with the potential to hit for power, and an above average arm. He’s also been dogged throughout his career, particularly since he became a Pirates’ rather than a Yankees’ prospect, with rumors that he’s older than his official age, although there’s never been any supporting evidence. The power hasn’t come around, as he tends to be a strong groundball hitter. He’s had almost no platoon split. When he first came up with the Pirates, he got a lot of infield hits and was a good percentage base stealer. Starting in his second season, though, he slowed down considerably, getting fewer infield hits, having far less success as a base stealer, and struggling defensively. At different times, some of the trouble seemed to result either from him being out of shape or from nagging injuries.
Got a lot of attention right away by hitting so well as a 16-year-old in the GCL, with more walks than Ks.
Made it high up on most prospect lists due to impressive showing for a 17-year-old in low A. His season was cut short when he was hit on right wrist by a pitch. He had a slightly low walk rate and fanned about once every five and a half ABs. He posted similar or slightly better walk and K rates through AA.
In high A, Tabata’s power dropped off. Some of the dropoff may have resulted from the Florida State League, which devours power, and some may have been due to continued problems with wrist. Tabata finally had the hamate bone removed in August.
In AA with the Yankees, Tabata was still having problems with the wrist early in season and got off to horrid start, hitting .200 in April. He improved somewhat after that, but still didn’t hit for any power. Lingering effects from hamate surgery could account for this, as that surgery can sap a hitter’s power for half a year or more. Tabata also was playing in AA at very young age (19). Doubts arose about his makeup after the Yankees suspended him twice, once for on-field incident and once for walking out on the team during a game. Scouts also believed he’d lost speed, although for the entire season he stole 18 bases in 20 tries. Sometimes there seems to be a piling on impulse with scouting reports. At the time of the trade to the Pirates, Tabata was out with a hamstring pull. Once in Altoona, he quickly began addressing the doubts. He also played a decent CF. The Pirates added Tabata to the 40-man roster in the off-season.
Tabata became mired in more controversy when his then-wife, who was twice his age, was arrested during spring training for kidnapping a baby. Indications from the start were that Tabata had no involvement or knowledge. Returning to AA, he started off slowly, then missed nearly two months with a hamstring injury. He got red hot in July and earned a promotion to AAA. He started well there, but slumped toward season’s end. He played center in AA until Pirates acquired Gorkys Hernandez, then moved to right. He split time between right and center in AAA.
Tabata showed up at Indianapolis in better shape than he’d been in before, and it made a difference. He hit well and also turned into a prolific base stealer. The Pirates called him up in early June and he took over the leftfield job. He struggled at the plate for a month. A week into July, his OPS was just .604, but he finished the month with an OPS of .813, then increased that to .856 in August before slumping a little in September. At season’s end, an 0-for-8 stretch dropped his BA below .300 in his last at-bat. He did a good job of stealing bases in the majors. Defensively, according to UZR and +/-, he was excellent.
Tabata started the 2011 season looking like he was ready to elevate his offense. He hit three HRs in his first 15 games and had his OPS over .900 in mid-April, but he went into a slump that lasted into mid-May. The Pirates had him batting leadoff most of the time and he focused on taking more pitches, which led to a sharp increase in his walk rate from one every 14.5 plate appearances to one every 9.6. Oddly, at the same time his K rate from one every seven and a half ABs to one every five and a half. The data at Fangraphs shows he swung at a much lower percentage of pitches than in 2010, 48.9% to 41.9%, and he cut the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that he swung at by about a quarter, but when he did swing at pitches outside the zone he was more apt to swing and miss. He never really got going again with the bat and, in late June, he went on the disabled list with a quad strain. Once he was deemed ready to play, he went to the minors on a rehab assignment, but it didn’t go well, as he had to be shut down a couple of times. He finally returned to the Pirates in mid-August and didn’t seem able to run all out. He got hot initially, but slumped after about a week and, after another two weeks, he found out he had a fracture in his hand. That ended his season. Prior to his going on the DL, though, the Pirates signed him to a contract extension covering six years (including 2011) and three, one-year club options, with a guaranteed value of $14.75M and another $22.5M if the Pirates exercise the options.
Tabata took another step backward in 2012. He got off to a bad start. Through April 21 he was hitting just .140 with no extra base hits. By July 1 he was still hitting just 230/295/341 and was attracting extensive criticism from the team’s fans for not hustling. The Pirates benched him in mid-May for failing to run out a grounder, then in late May he suffered what supposedly was a minor hamstring injury. On a number of occasions, he either didn’t run out balls or made what seemed like a less-than-maximum effort on plays in the outfield. The Pirates tried to excuse it by saying Tabata had a tender hamstring, but that just raised the question of why he was playing. The team finally optioned him to AAA at the beginning of July and he didn’t hit especially well there. The Pirates brought him back up in late August, not because he earned it, but because Starling Marte got hurt. He shared outfield time after that with Marte, Presley and Travis Snider, and didn’t improve his overall numbers much. He missed a little more time with a foot injury in September. On the year, Tabata hit just slightly better against LHPs and, obviously, did a terrible job as a base stealer. He played about two-thirds of his time in right and the rest in left. The defensive stats suggest he’s slipping farther below average defensively.
There weren’t any good trend lines for Tabata by the end of the 2012 season. First of all, he didn’t appear to be in the kind of shape he was in during his rookie year. The terrible base stealing numbers in 2012 support this, as does the defensive decline. Tabata also saw his percentage of infield hits drop rapidly, from 13.3% to 8.4% to 6.6%. The hitting trends were not good, either. After not popping up in the infield at all in 2010 and 1.7% of the time in 2011, he popped up 9.3% of the time in 2012. He also hit more groundballs than ever and swung and missed more than ever.
Tabata bounced back well, putting up the best hitting numbers of his career. He started the season more or less in a RF platoon with Travis Snider. As Snider’s hitting tailed off, Tabata got more of the playing time, until he missed all of June with a strained oblique. After he returned, he played right more or less regularly until Starling Marte got hurt in mid-August, at which point Tabata took over in left. With Marte back and Marlon Byrd in right, he served only as a pinch hitter in the post-season. Overall, he hit the ball with more authority than he had previously. In his first three years, his ISO remained just above .100, but it was .147 in 2013. He hit the fewest groundballs and most line drives of his career, and his infield hit percentage rose sharply after a two-year decline. His defense also improved, at least according to UZR, but the Pirates still replaced him for late-inning defense at times.
If he can continue at his 2013 level, Tabata is a perfectly reasonable option in right, but there’s also his propensity for injury to consider. With Gregory Polanco on the way, Tabata is likely to be a fourth outfielder in the long run anyway. The Pirates didn’t acquire a right fielder during the off-season, so Tabata went into the spring as the favorite to win the job. Snider had a good spring, though, and Tabata didn’t, so at the start of the season it looked as though Snider would get the majority of the playing time.
UPDATE: Tabata didn’t follow up on his solid 2013 season, hitting for average but no power at all, and continuing to be a liability in the field and on the bases. The Pirates brought Gregory Polanco up to play right field in June. Neil Walker was hurt at the time, but when he returned, the Pirates outrighted Tabata to AAA. He still has a guaranteed contract through 2016, so the possibility remains that he’ll return to Pittsburgh at some point.
2017: $6,500,000 (team option, $250,000 buyout)
2018: $7,500,000 (team option, $250,000 buyout)
2019: $8,500,000 (team option, $250,000 buyout)
|Signing Bonus: $550,000
MiLB Debut: 2005
MLB Debut: 6/9/2010
MLB FA Eligible: 2017
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2008
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2009, 2010, 2012)
MLB Service Time: 3.081
|August 12, 2004: Signed as an international free agent by the New York Yankees.
July 26, 2008: Acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the New York Yankees with Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, and Jeff Karstens in exchange for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.
November 20, 2008: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
June 24, 2014: Outrighted to AAA by the Pittsburgh Pirates.