Name: Blake Tekotte
DOB: May 24, 1987
Selected in the third-round of the 2008 draft, Tekotte began his professional career in Eugene of the Northwest League after his college season ended.
Playing center field, the former Miami Hurricane started off slowly, striking out seven times in his first nine at-bats and 14 times over his first 32.
Gaining confidence and the timing back in his swing, Tekotte wound up hitting .285 with 21 extra-base hits, including six homers, across 47 games. He had 17 multi-hit games before skidding to a 3-for-31 finish.
The Missouri native fanned 45 times on the season while drawing 27 walks for a .379 on-base percentage and hit .222 when leading off an inning. He did, however, bat .321 with runners in scoring position to collect 29 RBI.
Scoring 50 percent of the time he reached base, Tekotte touched home 43 times and added seven stolen bases in 11 attempts.
Tekotte's ISO (Isolated Power) of .171 landed him sixth in the circuit and a .456 slugging percentage placed him eighth. The outfielder also ranked 11th the Northwest League in wOBA (weighted On Base Average) at .390 and 12th with 8.5 wRAA (weighted Runs Above Average based off wOBA).
While the Padres considered sending Tekotte to the California League to begin the year, the Missouri native spent the entire 2009 season with Fort Wayne. He again got off to a slow start, hitting .211 over the first two months of the season, before turning it on. He hit .328 over the next two months and ended the year batting .258.
"When it was all said and done, he had a good year after a very bad April and May where he did no damage at all offensively," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He started to drive the ball better, and he has more pop in his bat than most people give him credit for. Right now, we are working on the length of his swing, especially on off-speed pitches."
The primary leadoff man, Tekotte scored a team-high 83 runs while driving in 56. He notched 42 extra-base hits, including 13 homers. Tekotte also notched a 68-to-97 walk-to-strikeout ratio en route to sporting a .345 on-base percentage.
As his offense went, so did that of the TinCaps. The team went 41-13 during his two hottest months compared to a 31-19 mark when he struggled.
"Right after the first half, at the start of the second half, he provided a little bit of power for us," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "I think he ended up with 13, and he really got locked in for about six weeks from the start of the second half. He didn't miss a fastball for six weeks in a row. Of course, he played great, great defense, which I believe is another part of the TinCaps success this year."
His .295 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was amongst the lowest in the league while his 82.1 wRC (weighted Runs Created) was amongst the best.
He put a lot of pressure on himself to perform, especially as the team started off on a hot streak. He wanted to be a part of it and was chasing pitches outside of the zone.
Tekotte underwent some changes to his swing that began during instructs last season. He worked on toning down a significant wrap in his swing that had his bat head pointed at the pitcher just before swinging. By cutting down on the wrap, his timing was thrown off. He was adjusting on the fly and could not gain a consistent rhythm. Instead of squaring the ball up, he was early or late as his pace increased and decreased to find that sweet spot.
Cutting down on the wrap makes him shorter to the ball and allows for maximum time for pitch recognition. He has made strides in this area but must continue to work on eliminating it.
"When you start that late, it creates a lot of things in your swing because your body is saying, ‘I have to catch up, I have to catch up,'" Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "You are never going to catch up.
"That is why you fly off, your hands are under the ball. He hit a ton of fly balls when he got here. He was never able to get on top of the ball to drive it because half the problem was he was starting too late. He is getting his front foot down in time; he is getting a better look at the baseball."
By getting his front foot down a little earlier, he was able to temper the need for his bat to start sooner. Instead of committing early, he was waiting back on more pitches and adjusting based on pitch recognition.
"A little bit on his swing path and how he was getting to the ball," Tornicasa said of the changes Tekotte underwent. "He had his hands pretty far behind his head and we got that untucked. He was jumping out a little at the ball and his approach was not under control. Some guys we get here at first aren't under control in the box and are jumping out at the ball with too much movement. They end up not getting a good look at the baseball."
"His problem a lot of times is that his swing gets a little bit long," Dascenzo said. "He starts to go out to try and get the baseball rather than, there's a happy medium there, to kind of stay there and let your swing work for you."
The center fielder has improved in the patience department. He is still antsy in the box and will chase outside of the zone. As his swing mechanics are honed, this is an area of his game that may continue to blossom, bringing the walks and strikeouts more in line with each other.
Tekotte is able to turn on the inside fastball and pull it into the bleachers thanks to quick hands. He does not have opposite field power but sprays the ball the other way based on where the ball is pitched. Nearly all of his homers went to right field. When he is pulling pitches on the outer half, he is a fly out waiting to happen.
Keeping the ball out of the air is important to his overall success. He will, at times, get into a home run mode where he is lifting pitches all over – most turning into outs. Keeping a more level swing will aid his game – one based on speed and line drives. Currently, Tekotte has an uppercut in his swing that minimizes the bat's time in the hitting zone.
"Speaking of his timing, even all through towards the end of season and through the playoffs, I had to keep reminding him about it," Tornicasa noted. "‘Hey, you're late. You've got to get it started sooner.'
"When he's doing that, then he's not wrapping that bat, and he's staying on top like he did the second half of the season. He's got surprising power too. He had a double figure homers. It's just going to get better for him."
Tekotte is an above-average runner that has a firm understanding of when to run and how to read a pitchers' move. He benefitted greatly under Dascenzo and ended up with 30 stolen bases in 42 attempts. Several of the times he was thrown out came on failed hit-and-run opportunities. He could be even better in the base running department, as he lacked aggression early in the year when he was struggling to reach base at a healthy clip. This is a number that could rise in the coming years.
A plus defender, Tekotte has excellent range and reads the ball well of the bat. With a quick first-step and crisp routes, he is able to position himself well to make a play. There are times when he makes a judgment call that he can't get behind a ball and will appear to glide, making the over the shoulder catch. Part of that is his innate feel for tracking fly balls. If he goes full out and does not get behind the ball, he will be in a poor position to make a play – caught in between. His arm could use some work. Most of his errors came on errant throws. His arm strength is average but the accuracy has been unstable. He did, however, throw out 13 runners in 2009.
Conclusion: Tekotte has the type of defense, speed and bat that could make an impact at the major league level, especially Petco Park. He needs to continue the maturation process and learning his swing fundamentals. Cutting down on the wrap will go a long way towards revealing the true player he can be. At the same time, he must work to his strength, keeping the ball out of the air to take advantage of his speed.
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