Spring Training Preview: Outfielders

WEEK 1: OUTFIELDERS IN THE PIRATES ORGANIZATION

The Indianapolis Indians’ parent club enters Spring Training boasting an extremely talented set of outfielders across all levels of the system. The list, in direct relation to the Tribe’s 2015 roster, includes potential Triple-A outfield candidates in former Indians standouts Jaff Decker, Gorkys Hernandez, Mel Rojas Jr. and Jose Tabata.

Potential Indians Outfielders:

Jaff Decker

Jaff Decker was originally selected by the San Diego Padres as a supplemental first-round pick (42nd overall) in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

First name pronounced “jeff,” Decker took little time adjusting to professional ball and was named MVP of the Arizona League in 2008 and Baseball America’s Class-A Player of the Year in 2009. Although the Phoenix, Arizona native would temporarily become stalled by minor injuries in two of the next three seasons, his setbacks only delayed the inevitable as the perennial top prospect reached the Major Leagues with the Padres in 2013. Decker then carried over the racing pace of his minor-league career to his big-league debut when he launched a homer off Jhoulys Chacin for his first official MLB hit on Aug. 12, 2013 at the Colorado Rockies.

The potential Tribe outfielder arrived in Pittsburgh’s organization by way of trade with RHP Miles Mikolas in exchange for INF Alex Dickerson on Nov. 25, 2013. The soon-to-be 25 year old posted solid totals of a .257 average with 27 doubles at the plate with the Indians last season, and truly impressed with his honors as the Tribe’s “Best Defensive Outfielder” in 2014. Behind the motto “Don’t Run on Decker,” the outfielder earned his defensive accolade by recording a .989 fielding percentage while leading the team and ranking second in the International League with his career-high 15 outfield assists. Decker reinforced his theme two-fold as a stalwart on defense when he cut down two would-be runs at home plate in the same game on May 26 vs. Buffalo.

Status: Attending camp as a member of Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster.


Gorkys Hernandez

Gorkys Hernandez was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers as an international free agent on April 30, 2005.

Touted for both his speed and defensive work in the outfield, Hernandez is a decorated prospect who boasts honors from Baseball America as the “Most Exciting Player” in the Midwest League (2007) and Carolina League (2008), the “Best Outfield Arm” in the Carolina League (2008), Eastern League (2010) and International League (2011) and the “Best Defensive OF” of Pittsburgh’s organization in three consecutive seasons from 2010-12. He will compete for time in the outfield on a former Indians team with which he was voted as the “Defensive Player of the Year” in 2011.

Hernandez is coming off a 2014 campaign split between Triple-A Omaha and Charlotte, and the Tigres de Quintana Roo of the Triple-A equivlent Mexican League. The Venezuela native combined to hit .280 with 19 doubles and 27 RBIs in 75 games between the trio of clubs, and also turned in his eighth pro season of collecting at least 15 stolen bases. At age 27, Hernandez capped off his traveled campaign by ranking third in the Mexican League in steals (8), tied for fourth in hits (34) and eighth in average (.378) following his season debut on July 18.

Status: Non-roster invitee to big-league camp.


Mel Rojas Jr.

Mel Rojas Jr. was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round (84th overall) of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

The Indianapolis native has displayed impressive power potential during his quick ascension through Pittsburgh’s system, producing 30 or more extra-base hits in each of his four full seasons in the minors. As a multi-tool outfielder, Rojas has spent the majority of his first few campaigns patrolling center field before recently making a successful transition into right field. His abilities across the outfield have garnered recognition from Baseball America as the “Best Defensive OF” in the Florida State League in 2012 and as a two-time Top-30 organizational farmhand of the Pirates’ minor-league chain.

Last year, the 24 year old paced his promotion to the Triple-A level by ranking fifth in the Eastern League with 36 RBIs for Double-A Altoona at the time of his call-up. Rojas excelled with his hometown Indians team to hit safely in 60 of 77 games with a .277 average, notch a 10-game hitting streak, and back his offensive prowess with a defensive highlight reel that featured throwing out five runners at home plate.

Status: Non-roster invitee to big-league camp.


Jose Tabata

Jose Tabata was originally signed by the New York Yankees as an international free agent on Aug. 12, 2004.

Tabata heads to 2015 Spring Training having played in nearly 500 games at the major league level since his debut with the Pirates in 2010. The native of Venezuela signed his first pro contract on his 16th birthday, and after ranking as the second-youngest player on a Double-A Opening Day lineup in the Eastern League in 2008, has spent the majority of each of the last four seasons as a part of Pittsburgh’s outfield corps. Still just age 26, Tabata has already collected 427 hits in his Major League career and 659 base knocks during his time in the minors.

A four-time “Best Hitter for Average” according to Baseball America, Tabata fit that billing with the Tribe last season by hitting safely in 17 of his final 22 Triple-A games in 2014. After ranking fifth in the IL with a .349 average in that span, Tabata concluded the 2014 campaign with an August return to the Pirates and two at-bats in Pittsburgh’s Wildcard showdown against the eventual World Series-winning San Francisco Giants.

Status: Non-roster invitee to big-league camp.


In the System

Other notable outfielders in the Pirates’ organization include Keon Broxton, the “Best Defensive Outfielder” in the club’s system according to Baseball America, and Willy Garcia, who is rated by the same publication as the 12th-best farmhand in Pittsburgh’s chain.

At 24 and 21, respectively, the two up-and-coming prospects excelled alongside each other at the Double-A ranks in Altoona last season. While they may not crack the Tribe’s Opening Day roster in 2015, the duo is on the cusp of the next level after hitting better than .270 through the 2014 campaign with the Curve.

MiLB.com
Keon Broxton impressed during his Pirates-organization debut, belting 15 home runs for Double-A Altoona in 2014. (Photo: MiLB.com)

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