From BR Bullpen
José Nicolas Tabata
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 160 lb.
 Biographical Information
Tabata was signed by scout Ricardo Finol for the New York Yankees on his 16th birthday. He made his pro debut with the 2005 GCL Yankees, hitting .314/.382/.417 and stealing 22 bases in 28 tries. He led the Gulf Coast League in steals and was 9th in batting average. He made the league All-Star outfield alongside Matt Kutler and Francisco Guzman. Baseball America rated him as the league's #7 prospect, third among outfielders after Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce and ahead of teammate Austin Jackson. They also ranked him as the #3 prospect in the Yankees system.
In 2006, the teenager hit .298/.377/.422 with 15 swipes in 20 attempts for the Charleston RiverDogs despite 3 stints on the disabled list. He played center field and hit 9th for the World team in the 2006 Futures Game in a 8-5 loss. Baseball America rated him as the #2 prospect in the South Atlantic League, behind McCutchen and just ahead of Fernando Martinez and Elvis Andrus. Had he qualified, Tabata would have tied for 8th in the SAL in average. Baseball America ranked him as the #2 New York Yankees prospect and as the best batting prospect in the 2006 SAL. That winter, he played for the Caribes de Oriente, producing at a .275/.392/.422 clip.
Tabata was the right fielder for the 2007 Tampa Yankees, hitting .307/.371/.392 with 15 steals in 21 tries. He placed 4th in the Florida State League in average and made the FSL All-Star outfield alongside Jacob Butler, Erik Lis and Cameron Maybin. Baseball America ranked him as the #9 prospect in the FSL, between Deolis Guerra and Austin Jackson. Only Bruce and Maybin were rated higher among position player prospects. In August, he had surgery to remove the hamate bone from his right wrist, which had been damaged by a pitch in July of 2006. Baseball America rated Tabata as the #3 Yankees prospect after Joba Chamberlain and Jackson.
Tabata battled more injuries in 2008 and only batted .248/.320/.310 in 79 games for the Trenton Thunder. He was then traded with Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Karstens to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.
Tabata was at the periphery of a scandal in March 2009. His 43-year-old wife (who had a criminal history of arson and fraud he was unaware of) had been lying to him, claiming she was pregnant. While the Pirates were in Florida for spring training, she kidnapped a baby and told him it was theirs. When the truth came out, Tabata said "The truth is that my wife told me many lies that, until this whole situation began, I did not know...the worst lie was that she completely falsified her pregnancy and the eventual birth of a baby girl, which would have made me a father for the first time. Imagine how that made me feel."
Tabata started 2009 slowly due to a hamstring injury. He picked up his pace as time progressed and finishing with batting lines of .303/.370/.404 in 61 games for Altoona and .276/.333/.410 in 32 contests for the Indianapolis Indians. Baseball America rated him the EL's #15 prospect (between Mark Rzepczynski and Scott Sizemore) and at #13 in the International League (between Fernando Martinez and Drew Stubbs).
José began 2010 back with Indianapolis and hit .308/.373/.424 with 42 runs in 53 games. In just a third of the season, he had set a new career high with 25 steals (in 31 tries). He was then called up to the majors alongside teammate and fellow prospect Brad Lincoln. Tabata was immediately inserted as the new leadoff hitter and left fielder, moving Lastings Milledge to right, Garrett Jones from RF to 1B and first baseman Jeff Clement to the minors. Tabata hit .225/.295/.375 in his first 10 games in the bigs, then got going with the bat. He ended up with a .299/.346/.400 batting line, coupled with 21 doubles and 19 steals (in 26 tries) in 102 games. He had a 103 OPS+ and fielded .995.
In August of 2011, Tabata signed a six-year contract extension with the Pirates worth $14.5 million, taking him to the end of his arbitration years. He finished the season at .266/.349/.362 (101 OPS+) with 16 steals in 23 tries, again as Pittsburgh's main left fielder. Injuries made the long-term contract look questionable in 2012 as Tabata batted only .243/.315/.348 for a 85 OPS+ with 8 steals in 20 tries. He tied teammate Andrew McCutchen for third in the 2012 NL in times caught stealing, though McCutchen had 12 more steal successes.
After Pittsburgh picked up Travis Snider and Starling Marte made the majors, José was pushed into a role as the backup outfielder for 2013. He again battled injury problems but wound up as a semi-regular as Snider struggled; Pittsburgh picked up Marlon Byrd for the stretch run but Tabata then moved to LF as Marte was out with his own injuries. Tabata finished the season with a batting line of .282/.342/.429 and no errors; he had a 119 OPS+, showing good progress, though he still had little power (6 HR) and was not stealing much anymore (3 SB). Despite the lack of speed, he was Pittsburgh's leadoff hitter when Marte was injured.
In 2014, he was a back-up, playing only 80 games and getting 174 at-bats, while hitting .282 with no homers and 17 RBIs. He played in the postseason in both 2013 and 2014, going a combined 0 for 6 those two years. He also spent some time in AAA in 2014, hitting .281 in 39 games for Indianapolis. He once again spent time in AAA in 2015, starting the season there when Andrew Lambo made the team as the backup outfielder. With Pittsburgh after Lambo's injury, he made the news on June 20th when he pinch-hit against Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals with two outs in the 9th inning after Scherzer had retired the first 26 batters of the game in order; with two strikes, he appeared to lean into an inside pitch and was hit on the elbow, breaking up the perfect game, although the next batter, Josh Harrison, flied out to end the game and give Scherzer a no-hitter. It was his final highlight in a Pirates uniform, as he was designated for assignment on June 29th.
- 2008 Yankees Media Guide
- 2006-2008 Baseball Almanacs
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- Venezuelan League website