Getting to know José Bautista through the scout’s viewpoint — The early days of the Blue Jays slugger

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
28 days ago
Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays added slugger José Bautista to the Level of Excellence, a distinguished honour for the right-handed batter who carved an impressive career North of the border.
While it took a few seasons for Bautista to get things going with the Jays following a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008, the former outfielder was one of the most dominant power bats in the game from 2010 to 2015 and sits amongst numerous franchise offensive leaderboards.
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, “Joey Bats” played baseball at an early age and was good enough to garner attention from numerous teams as he got older. However, after a deal with the Cincinnati Reds fell through and lowball offers from the Yankees and Diamondbacks didn’t persuade him to sign, Bautista took his talents stateside with help from the Latin Athletes Education Fund, finding a spot at Chipola College to continue playing baseball. Here in Marianna, Florida, the Dominican product started to garner the attention of big-league scouts, as Bautista was looking to take his talent to the next level.

An early look into Blue Jays slugger José Bautista’s baseball career at Chipola College

Jack Powell, a scout with over 50+ years of experience who currently works for the Minnesota Twins, was one of the first to get a good look at Bautista in his early playing days at Chipola, then a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
“When I first saw him swing a bat, he really carried himself well as a freshman on the diamond,” said Powell, speaking to Blue Jays Nation. “He wasn’t arrogant or cocky but carried himself with a confident presence in the way he prepared and practiced. José always had a plan when he stepped on the field and did everything he could to execute that plan, doing it the right way.”
Bautista’s journey with the program started in 2000, with the future All-Star spending two seasons with the Indians. Coincidently, he would be joined by Canadian Russell Martin for the 2001 season, with the two future Blue Jays teammates winning a Panhandle Conference Championship in their lone overlapping season.
“Bautista always stayed within himself at the plate, always looking for certain pitches,” Powell added. “When he was in the zone, he was always executing and putting the barrel on the ball, which really made him stand out amongst his teammates. That’s what caught my eye, was just his ability to just drive the ball to all parts of the field.”
At Chipola, the Indians had Bautista playing numerous positions on the field. He spent some time across the infield, in right field, and even on the mound as the team’s closer.
“The memories that stand out with José are all related to his power, both with his bat and his arm,” said Powell. “One particular instance was in Orlando. I was with the Pirates crosschecker and he just crushed a ball clear over the outfield wall for a no-doubt home run, sending it way over the powerlines, and onto a six-lane highway. That turned a lot of heads. Defensively, another play that stands out was they were playing Gulf Coast State College and a ball was hit out to José between the centre and right field gap. He caught the ball, spun, planted his foot and fired a laser to third base, beating the tagged-up runner from second base for the out. It wasn’t even close, he had that strong of an arm.”
Powell also shared an interesting tidbit about Bautista’s time on the mound as well, “José didn’t pitch in many game situations for Chipola and when he did, they were usually short outings. But during the semi-final in Lakeland, he went 10 innings for the club and was still throwing mid-90s with his fastball late in the game.”
The Pirates used their 20th-round selection in the 2000 MLB Draft on the power bat/arm from the Dominican, drafting Bautista as a third baseman and eventually signing him to a bonus worth $500,000 USD. While he spent more time in the outfield during his time with Chipola, Powell and the Pirates organization were confident that he could perform well at third base with his plus arm and athleticism.
“During batting practice, he would come into the infield and always field groundballs,” said Powell. “We knew he had the arm to make the position work as well as potentially work in the outfield. With his loud bat, you couldn’t miss him. I once took the Pirates scouting director down to see him play at Chipola before the draft and after one at-bat where he crushed a ball off one of the building walls, my director said, ‘I’m good, I have seen enough.'”
Following the draft, Bautista continued to work his way through the Pirates system but was eventually selected in the 2003 Rule 5 Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, making his MLB debut with the club in the 2004 season. He would later join the Tampa Bay Rays as a waiver claim early in the year and Bautista would eventually spend the rest of the season split between the Rays, the Kansas City Royals, and a few minutes with the New York Mets (literally, he never played a single game with them) before eventually returning to Pittsburgh as part of a package deal for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger.
Over the next few seasons, Bautista suited up in 377 games for Pittsburgh before he was traded to Toronto during the 2008 campaign, one of the most lopsided deals in franchise history.
Over the next ten years with the Jays, Bautista put forward a .253/.372/.506 slash line with 288 home runs, 766 RBIs, and a .878 OPS while manning third base and eventually right field, where he showed off his plus arm on numerous occasions.

Bautista retires with the Blue Jays

Later in his career, he spent time with the Mets, Braves, and Phillies, as well as a stint in the Olympics with the Dominican Republic (where he won a bronze medal). After flirting with a two-way player idea in 2020, Bautista eventually signed a one-day contract to retire with the Blue Jays during his Level of Excellence weekend last year, signaling an end to his playing days and one of the most fascinating careers in Blue Jays history.
“He is such an awesome guy,” added Powell. “I am incredibly happy for all the success he has earned through his playing career.”
Bautista finished his career with three Silver Slugger Awards, six All-Star appearances, and one of the most prolific bat-flips in history, which will live in Blue Jays’ history forever.


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