Yankees prospects: Dante Bichette Jr. off to strong start with Tampa

No one's been raining on Dante Jr's parade so far - David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

The much-maligned first round pick from 2011 is off to a very good start at High-A Tampa.

With their first selection (51st overall) in the 2011 MLB Draft, the Yankees selected high school third baseman Dante Bichette Jr out of Maitland, Florida. Like their Cito Culver pick the year before, the selection of Bichette was criticized quite a bit by draft experts. At the time, Baseball America had Bichette as the draft's 108th best prospect, while Keith Law didn't have him in his Top 100. Bichette had a strong couple months in the Gulf Coast League and Staten Island shortly after being drafted, but it went downhill from there once he got promoted to Low-A Charleston the following season.

Bichette followed up his .335/.440/.507 performance through 54 games and 248 plate appearances at GCL and SI with a weak .248/.322/.331 line with 94 strikeouts and 44 walks through 522 PA's at Charleston. It was obviously disappointing to see Bichette have a rough first full year in the organization, but he was just 19 years old at the time and he did finish the final 12 games with a .979 OPS, so perhaps there was hope for next year!

...Except Bichette struggled once again during his second go-around at Low-A ball in 2013; he hit .214/.292/.331 with 43 walks and 119 strikeouts in 486 PA's. He actually managed to do worse in 2013 (.623 OPS) than he did in 2012 (.653) despite repeating the level. Once a top-10 prospect in the organization, Bichette pretty much fell off the prospect map entirely with his .232/.308/.331 showing in over 1000 PA's at Low-A.

Thankfully, the Yankees haven't given up on Bichette (and why would they?). During spring camp, according to Steffan Segui of Baseball Prospectus, Bichette showed a more simplified approach at the plate; "his swing is now rock, identify pitch, and roll. Short and quick, don't ask questions." This appears to be a stark improvement from his previous mechanics at the plate where he'd be "huge rock, never identify pitch, Javier Baez-type leg-lift, front shoulder bails, hands drop, then roll." Segui also mentions that Bichette's defense at third still "isn't very good," but it was Bichette's bat that was his ticket to the Major Leagues to start with.

Although it's (very) early, this improved approach by Bichette may have already carried into real games. Finally at High-A Tampa, Bichette is hitting .313/.489(!)/.438 through his first 11 games and 44 PA's. That .489 OBP, by the way, is backed up by 12 walks (27% BB-rate), with only seven strikeouts (16% K-rate) to boot. For someone who had walk and strikeout rates of 8% and 21%, respectively, at Low-A, this is quite the pleasant sight. Even if there's lots of season left to played, it's nice to see one of the team's first round picks start to come around at the plate; a full, productive 2014 should put the 21-year-old firmly back on the prospect map.

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