When the Yankees drafted Dante Bichette Jr. as their top pick in the 2011 MLB draft, which came 51st overall in the supplementary round, draft pundits immediately derided it as an overdraft, much like their selection of Cito Culver the year prior. While that remains true, Bichette has done his best this year to make the Yankees' decision look better.
The son of four-time All-Star and 274-homer slugger Dante Bichette, the graduate of Orangewood Christian High School in Florida got off to a fast start in his professional career. With the Yankees' Gulf Coast League Rookie ball affiliate, the righty immediately won the GCL Rookie of the Month in July 2011 and was eventually named the GCL MVP for hitting a staggering .342/.446/.505 with a 172 wRC+ in 52 games. That performance was enough to rocket him to #5 on John Sickels' 2012 Top 10 Yankees Prospects list, and #6 on Baseball America's version.
For as promising as that debut season was though, DBJ's next two years were hell, and not just because he spent them in South Carolina (I kid). The Yankees thought highly enough of the 19-year-old to have him skip Short-Season ball in Staten Island and go straight into full season play with the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs. There's no beating around the bush--DBJ was awful in Charleston. In 2012, he slipped to a .248/.322/.331 triple slash with an 84 wRC+ in 122 games, and repeating the level next year, he was actually a little worse--.214/.292/.331 with an 82 wRC+ in 114 games. Sure, he regained some of his power with 11 homers after struggling to a dismal three in 2012, but he was hitting for less contact and striking out more (24.5%).
What hurt him the most seemed to be playing half his games at Charleston's infamous Riley Park. "The Joe" is an extremely pitcher-friendly park, and in his two years there, DBJ struggled to a .230/.285/.306 triple slash in 2012 and a dismal .184/.251/.300 triple slash in 2013. It seemed like any hopes of DBJ reclaiming his relevance were lost, as he was 21 years old at the start of 2014 and seemingly unable to escape A-ball. He wasn't on many Top Yankees Prospects lists, and he didn't even crack Pinstripe Alley's own preseason Top 30 Prospects list.
DBJ turned to his accomplished father for support, and he was gracious enough to resign as the Colorado Rockies' hitting coach in 2013 to focus on his son. They reportedly corrected some problems in his swing, and as Jesse recounted in April, he looked a lot better in minor league spring training:
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."
Perhaps inspired by these improvements, the Yankees started him in High-A Tampa despite his shaky couple of seasons, and DBJ hit the ground running. Now playing half his games at the more neutral Steinbrenner Field He crushed Florida State League pitching to a .321/.442/.440 batting line in April, and though he cooled off somewhat, he maintained a high performance level. Through 109 games, DBJ hit .271/.352/.410 with 27 doubles, nine homers, a .354 wOBA, and a 120 wRC+. He cut his strikeouts to 19.6% and increased his walk rate from about 8.6% in Charleston to 10.9% in Tampa. Yankees on Demand recently did a feature on him:
Now, DBJ's hard work has paid off. Today, it was revealed that he would be promoted to Double-A Trenton. He'll face another big challenge contesting a pitcher's park with Trenton's daunting Arm & Hammer Park, but perhaps this time he'll be more prepared for tackling those hurdles. He still has a tough road to the big leagues, as he needs work on his defense at third base, and back in Tampa, the more highly-regarded Eric Jagielo was starting more often over him while DBJ covered the designated hitter spot. Nonetheless, if DBJ can keep hitting through the higher levels of the minors, the Yankees will have to find a spot for him sometime in the future.
It's good to have you back, DBJ. Now bring back your Twitter account, we miss you!