Rafael Bautista started the season ranked 13th overall on MLB.com Pipeline’s list of the Washington Nationals’ top prospects, behind other highly-regarded outfielders in the organization like No. 1 prospect Victor Robles, hard-hitting outfielder Juan Soto (No. 3 overall), and 2015 2nd Round pick Andrew Stevenson (No. 5 on the list).
Bautista, 24, impressed in Spring Training, in his first big league camp with the Nats, going 12 for 38 (.316/.333/.368) with two doubles in 23 games, and got off to a good start at Triple-A Syracuse, going 23 for 79 with a .291/.325/.354 line, five doubles and three steals (in six attempts) through 19 games before he was called up to the big leagues this morning in the wake of Adam Eaton’s injury to his left leg/knee/ankle.
Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker took a long look at Bautista in Spring Training, and said this morning that in hindsight he was glad they kept the outfielder around as long as they did.
So what did he learn about Bautista, who was signed for $35K out of the Dominican Republic in 2011?
“I know he can get that fastball, No. 1,” Baker said. “He’s aggressive as a hitter. We had numerous discussions on how to hit the breaking ball, which most young hitters have trouble with and he told me he’s been working on it.
“He’s an outstanding outfielder, runs exceptionally well, has a good throwing arm and he pays attention, that’s what I like most about him, is that he pays attention.”
MLB.com’s scouts gave Bautista 70-grade speed on the scouts’ 20-80 scale, a 50 for his arm and 60 for his fielding, noting that, “Bautista gets good reads off the bat and has range for days in center field.”:
“His blend of speed, defense and hitting ability gives him a solid floor as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, though he could ultimately surpass that projection with further improvement at the plate.”
“He has bright eyes and a good face,” Baker added today, “which I’ve learned from Bo Schembechler that that’s very, very important to see how attentive a person really is.
“I think he’ll be a quick learner and I know he wasn’t intimidated by his first big league camp, and I’m glad we played him as much as we have so that he can see that he’s not intimidated by being around big leaguers or the big leagues.”
That level of comfortability, Baker explained, can be important for a young player like Bautista, who got to test himself against major league talent this Spring and see that he could hang on and off the field.
“It can do a lot for you,” Baker said.
“How you are accepted by your teammates and how they welcome you and there are other guys that aren’t welcomed because of the attitude that they exhibit.
“It’s easy to put your arms out to a kid whose arms are out to you as far as knowledge and professionalism and also it helps to be mannerful, not some cocky little know-it-all like a lot of us were. But it’s different now where back then they would like put you in your place, but now they won’t even mess with you. He’s a good kid.”
Good kid. Solid defender. Plus defender. Plus-plus speed. Experience against major league talent this Spring.
Now it’s time for Bautista to take the next step and test himself in the majors when he gets an opportunity.
Michael A. Taylor is getting the first shot in center, Baker said this morning, but Taylor has been given opportunities and struggled before.
Will Bautista be ready if he gets the opportunity? It will be a big test for the young outfielder.
“I remember Tommie Agee said years ago that the hardest thing about being in the big leagues is to feel that you belong there,” Baker said.
“Because you go from watching a guy — it happened to me, it happened to all of us.
“One year I was watching I was watching Bob Gibson strike out so many Tigers in the World Series and the next year I was facing him, you know what I mean, and you’re like, ‘Am I one of the stars?’ That’s the hardest part. How many people at 22, 23 or 25 years old reach their lifetime goal?”