Travis Ishikawa, 22, was one of the top high school players in the country when he graduated from High School in 2002, but he was expected to follow a commitment to go to college to play. The Giants drafted him in the 21st round (#637 overall), and then offered him a then-record $955,000 bonus for a non-first round pick to lure him away from college. (To put it in perspective, when the Giants drafted Barry Bonds out of high school in the 2nd round (39th overall), they offered him $70,000, and balked when he countered with $75,000. Bonds went on to Arizona State University).
Ishikawa had a good pro debut in 2002, batting .295 between the two low levels in the system, but had troubles at full-season A-ball in 2003, batting .206/.329/.278 before being sent back to short-A Salem-Keizer, where his numbers also dipped somewhat from the previous season. He spent most of the year at A-ball Hagerstown, batting .256/.357/.448, where he showed some of his burgeoning power with 15 home runs and earned a late callup to San Jose with a strong late-summer that raised his average nearly 50 points.
In 2005, Ishikawa finally had a breakout season. Playing with other top prospects for the California League Champion San Jose Giants (Class-A Advanced), Ishikawa hit .282/.387/.532 and led the team with 22 home runs. This year, Ishikawa had started the season at AA Connecticut, and was hitting .323/.364/.516 in 8 games with 3 doubles and a home run in 31 at bats.
There is no denying that Ishikawa has a ton of talent, but few believe that Ishikawa is ready. While Ishikawa’s power is becoming more evident, other problems have arisen, including disturbing strikeout numbers, 255 in 240 games (843 at bats) the last two seasons. This year, he had 8 in 31 at bats so far. Ishikawa has shown strong plate discipline over the years, and took 70 walks against his 129 strikeouts last year, so recognizing balls and strikes hasn’t been the problem. The problem is that his swing is still too long and he has notable holes that can be exploited, both on the inside and outside parts of the plate.
When Ishikawa does make contact, he usually hits the ball hard, and collects a lot of doubles with the home runs. He’s still growing into a very impressive physical frame, and should be capable of hitting with even more power as he grows.
One other concern about Ishikawa is his streaky bat. He’ll go on a tear for a couple of weeks, and then he’ll disappear for almost as long, if not longer. He’s shortened the lengths of the streaks (both good and bad), but still needs to work on his consistency.
On the basepaths, Ishikawa used to have a good reputation, putting up 10 steals in 15 attempts in 2004. But he has concentrated on his power and slowed some, stealing just 1 base in 5 attempts last year. He’s not a plodding runner, and will take extra bases with relative ease, but he’s no longer an above average runner.
There is no disputing that Ishikawa is a first baseman. He has shown good reactions at the position and great hand eye coordination. He’ll catch most balls hit or thrown at him, and has good range in all directions. While he doesn’t get to flash his arm often, it is both strong and accurate, and he makes good decisions on the field. He may not be comparable to J.T. Snow (yet), but he’s in the top class of defensive first baseman and was named the Best Defensive First Baseman in the California League by Baseball America in 2005.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
With no offense meant to Ishikawa, the only reason he got the callup now is because he was the only infielder left on the 40-Man roster who wasn’t already on the team. He’s a good player, and has a very good chance to be a good major leaguer, but he needs a lot more work on his swing in the minors before he becomes that.
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