Saturday, December 30, 2006

Work in Progress: P.J. Pilittere

Age: 25 (just turned)
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: 13th Round in 2004 out of Cal State University
Position: Catcher
Hits: Right

Tools: No one is going to confuse Pilittere with a supreme athlete. He isn't fast. He doesn't have a particularly strong arm. His bat isn't great. He has gap power at best. Pilittere is the rare baseball player who may drill out a career for himself with his final tool - his mind. Granted, there is no way for me to independently varify if the reports about Pilittere's mental abilities are true, but there does seem to be a general consensus: P.J. has a strategic mind. It has benefitted him at the plate despite his lack of physical gifts and talent, and it has helped him in handling pitchers. Every publication that is available to me raves about how he makes pitchers better. Again, this isn't something that I can verify.

Performance: P.J. was on a couple of radars as a future no-hit backup catcher. Unfortunately, the knock against him was that he lacked any incredible defensive skills - he is above average behind the plate at best. He didn't hit much - .215/.252/.264 and .250/.320/.381 at Staten Island between 2004 and 2005. Since he was getting old, and the Yankees were incredibly thin on catchers (and still are), P.J. was pushed to Tampa, which it turns out was a good move. P.J. hit .302/.355/.412 in his first full season of professional ball, striking out 24 times and walking 20 times in 291 at bats. He showed decent power with 5 home runs, 2 triples and 14 doubles, and recieved boatloads of praise from Tampa pitchers. The Yankees, probably with the intent of rushing him to a backup position in 2008, decided to send him to Arizona to get more playing time against tougher competition. P.J. responded to the challenge, hitting .394/.444/.545 in a very small sample of 33 at bats (Catchers always recieve sparse playing time in the AFL). He hit 1 home run, 2 doubles, walked three times and struck out 5 times. For 2006, that brings his final line to .311/.366/.429. He also hit .373 with RISP. Everything considered, that is a pretty good line.

Health: Pilittere has never had any health problems. He's a pretty average sized catcher and shouldn't have any age or weight related concerns in the near future.

Comparison: I was tempted to say Joe Girardi at first, but I thought about it and the two don't really resemble one another. P.J. has a little more bat, while Joe was better behind the plate and was more athletic. Brad Ausmus is a better comparison. I'm not sure that Pilittere will start as many games as Ausmus, but their levels of performance will be fairly similar.

My Take: I'm not sure what to make of Pilittere. He's no doubt the only decent Yankee catcher who has played higher than Charleston. He has the abilities to be some kind of major league backup one day, in part due to having a marginally better bat than the Wil Nieves/Sal Fasano brand of catchers. He might have a short prime period where he can be an average starting catcher. I can see a lot of .270/.340/.380 lines in his future, which isn't totally unacceptable for your catcher. We'll see how he handles the high minor leagues, as his AFL line is too small of a sample to really tell much. He's got the reputation for a fierce leader and near player-coach. If he fails as a prospect, we might see him resurface as a minor league manager or scout within the organization.