On Friday I wrote about how Jose Tabata talked to Marlon Byrd over the off-season, aimed at changing his swing to add some leverage, lift the ball, and avoid hitting grounders and weak line drives. So far the results have been encouraging during batting practice, with Tabata now showing the ability to pull the ball, including several big home runs to left field during batting practice. While that is encouraging, there’s a huge difference between batting practice and the actual games.
Tabata is under contract for two more years, making a guaranteed $8.75 M for the rest of his deal. He is currently projected without a spot on the active roster, and will likely go to Triple-A to start the year, due to his past performance. Even if he does well in camp, the Pirates would be unlikely to keep him around, since that would result in Andrew Lambo going down, giving them no left-handed hitters on the bench.
That’s not to say that Tabata can’t play his way back on to the Major League squad. If an injury comes up during the season, he would be a top option to get the call with his contract. And if he does end up seeing better results with his new swing, that would only make it easier for the Pirates to call him up.
I talked with Tabata, Clint Hurdle, and hitting coach Jeff Branson about the changes to his swing. The focus here is to add a small amount of leverage, where it isn’t an uppercut or a hack, but a slight lift to avoid those ground balls of the past. Branson said that the focus for Tabata will be to still work to the middle of the field, but to find the outfield grass. Tabata discussed what went into his changes, and how comfortable he is with the swing now. The interviews can be seen in the video below, which also features video, including some up-close, slow-motion shots at the 54 second mark.