Sleeper Sleuth: Beefier Tabata gunning for more homers, respect

Every spring, writers walking the beat dish out anecdotal tidbits about promising players, sending a tsunami of optimism toward Fantasyland. Often deep-fried in hyperbole and drenched with unachievable expectations, these savory nuggets are consumed in unhealthy quantities by fanatics, typically leading to disappointment, depression and, worst of all, September destitution.

Already, the wire is littered with examples:

B.J. Upton(notes) is “ready to have more fun” this season, a loose attitude that could finally maximize his enormous potential.

Ervin Santana(notes) is experimenting with a splitter in the hopes of improving his unexciting 6.83 K/9 from a year ago.

Pablo Sandoval(notes), trying to regain his ’09 form, lost the weight of a small elephant by replacing Chef Boyardee with a certified nutritionist and – Gasp! – exercising routinely.

Most of these reports should be taken with a grain of salt. However, recent revelations about up-and-coming Pirate Jose Tabata(notes) shouldn’t.

Once cast as a mentally immature prospect in the Yankees system, the left-fielder, who came over from New York in the Damaso Marte(notes)/Xavier Nady deal in ’08, is poised to take a significant production leap. After posting useful numbers over 405 at-bats with the senior club last season (.299-4-35-61-19), the 23-year-old pushed to elevate his game this offseason, morphing into a miniature Lou Ferrigno. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Tabata has bulked up noticeably … and it’s muscle, not fat. “He’s a beast,” one player said, glancing across the clubhouse as Tabata slipped into his workout gear.

“Yeah, I’m bigger,” Tabata said, grinning. “I worked out in the gym every day this winter. I want to be bigger and stronger. This year, my idea is to hit more home runs …

"The power is there,” he said. “I know it is. The ball was jumping off my bat in winter ball.”

In December, Tabata played 14 games for Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League. He hit .317 with one homer and a .439 slugging percentage in 57 plate appearances.

“It’s a good feeling,” Tabata said. “But I have to be careful not to let it change my swing. Sometimes, when you want to hit home runs, your swing gets real long. I can’t let that happen.”

For Tabata to exude power without repercussion, the last line sums it up, maintaining balance and consistency is imperative. If he becomes too pull-happy, strikeouts will mount, diminishing his AVG and likely his stolen base contributions – Chris Duffy(notes) reincarnated.

Obviously, a player with a 2.42 GB/FB ratio is closer to Juan Pierre(notes) than Juan Gonzalez, but if Tabata’s groundball rate can dip below 50 percent, he will likely surpass the double-digit mark in homers. In fact, because of his disciplined eye (0.49 BB/K in ’10), entrenched spot behind Andrew McCutchen(notes) and plus speed, the emerging talent could be this year’s version of Angel Pagan(notes) (.290-11-69-80-37 in ’10). Participants in unchallenging formats would scoff at such a comparison, but the Mets outfielder was the 66th-best commodity in the Y! game a year ago, yielding a Round 6 value according to Baseball Monster. Tabata generates a similar total, and his investors will be swigging a celebratory bottle of rum. Right now, the overlooked Bucco is going around pick No. 275 in standard Yahoo! drafts and for a crisp $2 bill in auctions. Aye matey! That’s a bargain!

Even if his pop remains dormant, Tabata should sustain considerable value, contributing solidly in steals and runs. As Buccos skipper Clint Hurdle revealed earlier this month, he plans to be “more aggressive” on the bases giving “a number of guys the green light.” Though the added weight is a slight concern, the youngster, who stole 19 bags in 102 games last year, is a strong candidate for 30 swipes.

Make no mistake, Tabata is one discounted product that won't cause heartache.

Fearless Forecast: 586 at-bats, .291 BA, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 84 R, 31 SB

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Image courtesy of Getty

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