|Aaron Bates gets called up||07.06.09 at 3:34 pm ET|
It seems as though Paw Sox first baseman Aaron Bates has finally figured it out. An all-but-forgotten Sox prospect entering the year, Bates burst out of the games in Portland after a mediocre Double A season last year, got called up to Pawtucket two months into the season and has now been called up by the Red Sox for his first taste of the majors on Monday.
An unfortunate incident in Saturday’s game against the Mariner’s in which Seattle shortstop Ronny Cedeno collided with Sox first baseman Jeff Bailey may land Bailey on the disabled list and Bates in the Red Sox clubhouse. One man’s loss is another man’s gain.
Bates has often been noticed for his offensive numbers but it is his defense that Paw Sox skipper Ron Johnson has noticed and something the Red Sox will be looking for with Mark Kotsay as their next option at first.
“I’ve see a couple of things from Aaron,” the Paw Sox skipper said recently. “He’s phenomenal defensively. He’s a really, really good defensive first baseman — the size, the stretch, the pick, the split — it’s been impressive that’s hard to disagree. I’ve been really impressed with his make up and composure — the way he’s gone about his play.”
With Bailey presumably out at least until the All-Star break and Mike Lowell on the DL with his sore hip, the Sox are short on corner infield options. Kevin Youkilis has shifted across the diamond from his customary spot at first to cover third with Bailey and Kotsay platooning at first.
Kotsay has only played 46 games at first over the span of six seasons and will likely start most games but Bates offers a solid glove with only one error in 184 chances in Pawtucket in addition to experience in the outfield and the potential for power at the plate.
“I’m very impressed with Aaron Bates,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked about this before with some other guys that have come up, the Pedroias, Lowrie, Youkilis. The ones that come up to this level and have a good grasp of the strike z0ne, what to swing at and what not to, they seem to be able to succeed earlier than the guys that come up and have a rougher time managing the zone.”
Bates’ slow but steady progression through the Sox minor leagues was given a boost when he was called up to Pawtucket after a torrid May in Portland.
He was named Eastern Player of the Month in May after batting .370 (40-for-108) with six home runs, 28 RBIs recording a .456 OBP and a .602 SLG in 28 games. He reached base in all but two games and had 14 multi-hit games.
Originally drafted out of NC State in the third round of the 2006 draft, Bates – who was selected that high due to impressive power potential – had become lost in the minor leagues until this recent surge of progress.
At 25, Bates took it upon himself to get his path to the majors back on track. After a mediocre season with Portland in 2008 in which he batted .276 with 11 home runs, 68 RBIs and a .366 OBP, Bates decided to play winter ball to eliminate an errant leg kick that was slowing him down at the plate.
He played eight games with the Scotsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League before winter ball in Puerto Rico with Leones de Ponce. He then appeared in 18 games in Puerto Rico and batted .271 (16-for-59) with 6 RBIs and .358 OBP in preparation for the 2009 season with Portland.
“I worked on some mechanical things in Arizona and Puerto Rico so that definitely helped a lot because I wanted to go play and work things out,” Bates said. “It definitely helps coming into Spring Training as far as having an idea of what I wanted to do.”
So far in Pawtucket he is only batting .182 with 7 RBIs and 2 home runs in 24 games but has reached base in six of his last 10 games. Coming off a torrid streak in Portland, Bates credits his cool bat to inexperience with Triple A pitching. Still, he has maintained the same pre-game workout despite the results. His routine of 20 swings in the cage before every game keeps him consistent which he says is the key to overcoming his problems at the plate.
While he may not have to get adjusted to Triple A pitching too much longer with opportunity looming in Boston, he still promises he is not focusing on anything out of his control.
“I’m just focusing on playing baseball,” he said before the call-up. “I think that’s what has gotten me here this year, not worrying about that kind of stuff and things you can’t control. You go out and play hard. You go up there and try to put in your four at bats and see where you end up. You can’t really worry about call ups.”
But if Bates is not focusing on a call up then Johnson will do it for him.
“He’s a very interesting guy,” Johnson said. “Plus the fact he got here the right way. He was down in Double-A, hit .340, drove in 40 runs. His promotion was well deserved. It wasn’t a case where we’re always seeing the guy. He paid his dues, he learned, he developed and he’s doing a pretty good job.”
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