In December 2003, the Pirates lost Jose Bautista in the much-publicized Rule V debacle. Four different teams were willing to place him on their roster during the season before the Mets returned him to the Pirates in a July 30 trade. This is evidence that he had enough potential to stay on a Major League roster for the entire season despite clearly not being ready for the level. In the end, that lost season of development may have limited his ultimate Major League success. Bautista continues to show flashes of potential talent, giving the impression that he may develop into a good Major League player. But as his age continues to rise (he turns 27 on October 19), the word “potential” slowly loses its luster. Eventually, the results must be there.
Bautista possesses two of the most important qualities for a young hitter. He has a disciplined batting eye at the plate, resulting in a high walk percentage. That will keep his on-base percentage respectable through poor stretches with the bat, and it provides hope that he can be productive if his batting average increases in the future. He also has good power, generated by an extremely quick bat. For those that have seen some of his laser beams over the 410-foot mark at PNC Park, there is no doubting his strength. The question is whether he can drive the ball with consistency. Early in 2007, Bautista’s home run power was virtually non-existent. At the same time, he was hitting a huge amount of doubles. His explanation was that he had shortened his swing in an effort to cut down his strikeouts. He assured us that the power would return, and he followed through on his promise. Bautista hit four home runs in 224 at-bats (1 HR/56 AB) through June 10, compared with 11 in 286 at-bats (1 HR/26 AB) since.
So is Bautista a legitimate Major League starter, or simply a very good utility player? The answer lies here. In these graphs, the blue line represents the average Major League player. As you can see, Bautista is average in nearly every statistic. So we have an ordinary offensive player that can capably play almost any position on the field.
Currently, Jose Bautista is a typical Pirate. He is a decent hitter that would be a perfect utility player on a good team. He could easily back up most positions and would be a solid replacement for an injured player. However, as tends to happen with the Pirates, he is overvalued and looked at as a key piece on the team. The discipline and power give him an opportunity to improve in the next few years. But unless that improvement comes very soon, he may lose his starting job to Neil Walker.