High Desert Mavericks outfielder Jabari Henry has always flown a little under the radar. From the days of Windermere Little League and through High School, where he teamed with current Seattle infielder Brad Miller (Miller told me in our first interview with him, "Jabari and I literally lived like a minute from one another growing up"), through his first season in the pros on a Pulaski team that finished 9-games under .500 and was relatively non-descript, then in 2013 and 2014 he found himself on rosters in Clinton and High Desert with top prospects such as Gabby Guerrero and D.J. Peterson. Not always ideal situations for people to take notice of Henry.
But as the 2014 minor league season went on, the 23-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder from Orlando, Florida started to make people that follow the Mariners and production in the minor league ranks take notice.
While Guerrero, Peterson, Patrick Kivlehan, Jordy Lara and Tyler Marlette have been talked about a lot for their productive seasons at the plate -- which all began in High Desert in 2014 and have since moved on to Double-A Jackson -- Henry quietly stayed behind in terms of coverage, and by remaining in High Desert, continuing to build on his impressive numbers for the Mavericks. As the 2014 season wrapped up, those numbers find Henry as one of only twelve players in the minor leagues to reach the 30-home run plateau this season. And of those twelve players, Jabari had the fourth lowest strikeout total (109) and third lowest strikeout rate (21.2%) on the season. That while also ranking in the top-25 in the minor leagues in both extra base hits (61) and RBI (95).
But Seattle's 18th round pick out of Florida International back in 2012 isn't mentioned in the same circles as some of those others ahead of him. While Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo, Peter O'Brien and Joc Pederson are names known by most people who follow prospects, Jabari Henry is sometimes referred to as "the other Jabari" in Seattle's organization.
Henry, who set career highs in most offensive categories in 2013 which he eclipsed a long time ago this season, enjoyed a solid season since the beginning for the High Desert Mavericks, but he really turned on the power in the season's second half, clubbing 16 home runs and picking up 30 extra base hits in 54 games since July 1st. His season slash of .291/.398/.584 in 114 games was among the best seasons among Mariners' minor leaguers this season. And for Henry, this year is really the result of him being better prepared for the day-to-day challenges of being a pro ballplayer.
"Last offseason I went back to college and worked with [FIU Head Coach and revered college baseball man] Turtle Thomas a lot," said Henry when we talked last week. "We were focusing on me driving the ball the other way. I really feel like that is the one thing I learned this year that has made the biggest difference," Henry told me. That work with Thomas in the offseason, and the new focus on, "preparation and anticipation for the way that pitchers were going to work me and being willing and able to hit the ball where it's pitched," is what Henry said he feels enabled him to reach new heights at the plate this season.
Henry, who has always been kind of quiet, said that the time he spent watching Miller play and how he handled himself even as a youth helped him develop his own even-keeled demeanor. "Brad was always the man. I watched how he went about things, and even when he was struggling, he was the same guy." He also learned some of that from his dad -- who was a very good basketball player in his younger days -- and from one of his coaches on one of those teams that he was on with Miller; former big leaguer Chet Lemon of The Juice.
Henry says he knows what his job is on the field. "I have to put up numbers and just be happy. And I know that, being able to play this game, I'm very blessed."
Adelanto is known as one of the best hitting environments in all of baseball, but the numbers that Jabari put up this season weren't just a result of his playing conditions, as the outfielder slugged 28 extra base hits -- including 13 homers -- and hit .270/.398/.526 on the road this season. It's also encouraging that he had almost no platoon split, hitting .293/.417/.576 against southpaws but managing a very strong .290/.392/.586 mark against right-handed pitching.
Only seven players hit more home runs than Henry over the season's last two months (16), but Jabari showed that he wasn't just a free swinging home run hitter aa he doubled that total with his base on balls (32) in that time, too. Those numbers and more are why 2014 was a big step in Henry's making a name for himself. And the Mariners I'm sure are feeling very blessed, too, that they have Jabari Henry in their system.
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