TRENTON – Legitimate power prospects, a player who has the potential to become a big-league RBI machine, make baseball scouts dream.
So, when the Boston Red Sox released their 2006 draft pick, outfielder Jason Place, the Yankees were quick to take a flyer on the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, who was the 27th player taken five years ago.
Place, despite his inability to hit consistently in the Boston system, and a bit of struggle at Class-A Advanced Tampa to start the season – he batted .213 (10-for-47) in 13 games with the T-Yanks – got a chance to help the Double-A Thunder with the injury to outfielder Melky Mesa.
During his seasons in the Red Sox system, hitting 39 homers between 2006-09, the 23-year-old Place, who grew up in Piedmont, S.C., struck out nearly 500 times. In 2000, in a season truncated by injury, he famed 48 times in 114 at-bats.
Yet, in a signing similar to that of Cody Johnson, Atlanta’s first-round 2006 draft pick, the Yankees were quick to see if they could tweak the work the Red Sox had done in smoothing out Place’s swing and unlocking his power potential.
“After I was released, the Yankees were the first team to call,’’ said Place. “I committed to the Yankees quickly. A few other teams called me, but I stayed with my commitment.
“I’m glad I did. So far, my experience in the Yankees system has been awesome.’’
Place is not just a station-to-station power prospect without other tools. He has above-average speed, both running and swinging a bat, good route instincts in the outfield and a strong arm. He has the kind of package to earn a spot on a major-league roster.
“But you have to make contact and hit consistently if you want to make it to the big leagues,’’ said Place. “That’s what I have to work on. I’ve been hitting pitchers’ mistakes, the pitches you have to take advantage of, but I’ve been popping them up.
“I want to send them to gaps in the outfield.’’
Place, like Johnson, is working on patience at the plate. Tuesday night, he took what was pitched to him and recorded three key hits. Manager Tony Franklin and the Thunder coaching staff like his work-ethic.
“Jason definitely has some tools,’’ said Franklin. “As always, it is our job to develop them.’’
And Place feels the Yankees certainly meet a player’s needs more than halfway, and he is working hard.
“What I like is that, if you need swings, you get them. If you need to be in the cage for awhile, you can get in the cage for awhile. Obviously there is a limit, you can’t take five-hundred swings, but you can always get your work in.
“I’m confident I’ll get to where I want to.’’
Given his above-average defensive package, the Yankees will certainly give a player who received a $1.3 million bonus from the Red Sox a more-than-extensive look. Boston did an excellent job at refining his swing, it’s time, as Place knows, to take his offensive game to the next level.
“I appreciate another opportunity,’’ said Place. “I’m really enjoying myself, and I’m getting the work to improve where I need to. Trenton is a great place to play. I’m enjoying both the atmosphere in the clubhouse, and playing in front of the type of crowds the Thunder draw.’’
With Mesa’s return getting closer – he was running the Waterfront Park steps prior to Wednesday night’s game – how long Place will be with the Thunder is up to some debate. A few more games like his three-hit effort Tuesday night could earn him a more permanent spot in the Thunder clubhouse.
Just a guy named Place trying to solidify his place in the Yankees system.
ROMINE STARTS ON THE ROAD BACK: Thunder catcher Austin Romine, who has not played since June 2 due to a mild concussion, suffered as the result of a collision at home plate in the Altoona series, is beginning to work his way back.
He will likely, after being cleared for practice, begin doing baseball drills this week. So his return date is not that definite with the Thunder on a 10-game Binghamton, Portland and New Britain Friday before returning home June 27 for a three-game series with rival New Hampshire.
The Thunder staff will be very careful with Romine, especially considering the position he plays.
While Romine is sidelined, former Thunder catcher and top Yankees prospect Jesus Montero missed some games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with what was termed an eye infection. At Class-A Charleston, catcher Gary Sanchez spent a few days back at Extended Spring Training after what was termed insubordination.
“Everyone talks about our catching depth,’’ said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. “For a time last week, that depth just wasn’t there.’’
On the upside, Jose Gil, an excellent player in his own right who gets lost among the blue-chip prospects, has performed superbly for the Thunder. His defense and pitch-calling has been excellent, and he is hitting .271 (35-for-129) with 14 RBIs in 28 games in Trenton.
FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: With Derek Jeter’s injury, many have already asked if he would rehab with the Thunder. As usual, one never knows until the last minute, or if a rehab assignment is in order. Jeter, of course, did a rehab stint with the Thunder in 2003, drawing a crowd of 8.729, the second-largest Waterfront Park gathering after Roger Clemens pulled in 9,134 on a rehab assignment May 23, 2007.