Jose Bautista: From Journeyman to MLB HR King
Jose Bautista is the example that every journeyman Major Leaguer playing the game looks to. Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 20th round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft from Chipola College in Marianna, Florida, Bautista spent three full seasons in the minors before making his Major League debut on April 4, 2004 for the Baltimore Orioles. Early in his career, Bautista was always known as someone with a little pop to his bat. Unfortunately, that pop came along with an astronomical strikeout rate. Between 2004 to 2008, Bautista bounced around four different MLB teams, spending various amounts of time between the minors and the show. During those four seasons, he hit 46 home runs and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.13. Going into the 2009 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, his first full season with his fourth club in five years, time was running out on his career. Bautista was one or two mediocre years away from being out of the game he grew up to love.
Throughout most of 2009, Jose continued along at his career average pace. While he managed to improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 1.29 in 83 games, the pop in his bat had all but disappeared, hitting only 3 home runs and 19 RBIs during that time. Going into the last month of the season, it appeared as though Jose was never going to reach his full potential and possibly be out of a job in the near future. That’s when something magical happened. The kind of thing that every fringe ball player dreams of. Bautista figured it out, and figured it out in a big way. At the tutelage of then hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, Bautista made some adjustments to his swing that Murphy and manager Cito Gaston hoped would allow Bautista’s to get started sooner and ultimately improve his timing on the point of contact with the baseball. The results were staggering. In the last 30 games of the season, Bautista started hitting long balls at a clip of one for every 10.9 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, Hank Aaron, the undisputed home run king of all time finished his career with a PA-to-HR ratio of 18.5.
Despite Jose Bautista’s new found power stroke, there were still many questions heading into the 2010 season. Not the least of which, was whether he could continue where he left off in 2009, and stay consistent for a whole season. Bautista answered those questions in a big way, crushing opposing pitchers for the entire season, finishing 2010 with 54 HR, the most in the majors. Along with being crowned the MLB home run king, Bautista was also named to his first All-Star Game and won a Silver Slugger Award for outfielders. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos rewarded Jose in the offseason with a new 5-year $64 million dollar contract.
With a new swing and a new contract, Jose has become one of Major League Baseball’s most feared hitters. He followed up 2010 with 43 HR, 103 RBIs in 2011, and for the first time in his career, he walked more than he struck out. Despite missing nearly half the season in 2012 with a wrist injury, Bautista was able to finish the year with 27 HRs, showing that this one time journeyman player has done what many fringe players hope to do, in finding a permanent place in the game they all love to play. With a boatload of new talent surrounding him in 2013, the best may still be coming for Jose Bautista.