The 2014 twelfth round pick clubbed a career-high 21 home runs last season in pitching friendly low-A Charleston and did so despite missing the last couple of weeks with what was then an undisclosed lower body injury. Fast forward to Spring Training this year and the lower body injury reared it's ugly head once again.
"While I was rehabbing my left hamstring during Spring Training I blew out my right hamstring so I did not play in any games during Spring Training," Gittens revealed.
It was the reason he began the season on the disabled list and why he didn't return to the Tampa Yankees lineup until April 21st. It didn't take him too long to find his stroke either as he hit safely in five of his first six games. Now 42 games into his season and playing mostly at designated hitter thus far, Gittens says he is back to 100 percent and ready to get back to his starting position at first base.
"Jay, the manager, told me I was going to be in the lineup every day. Game-wise, everything feels like its back in place and I feel back to normal", Gittens said with a smile.
After his injury, Gittens primarily worked on getting his timing back. He started the season off slow, at least defensively and from a power standpoint, but has picked up the pace ever since.
"Since my timing was a little slow and I did not play in Spring Training ground balls seemed a lot faster, but now I think I picked up where I left off from last season", he said.
He didn't hit his first home run until his 11th game of the season and didn't hit his third until his 26th game but has hit four more in the 16 games since then, showing the kind of plus power he showcased in the South Atlantic League last year. Tampa Yankees hitting coach Eric Duncan, a former power hitter in his playing days, is highly impressed with Gittens so far this season.
"Gittens looks great so far," Duncan said emphatically. "He has a fantastic routine, he works his butt off and is here early every day, and he knows what he needs to do to get better."
Currently hitting .297 with ten doubles, seven home runs, and 22 walks in 42 games, Gittens also has a farm system-leading .910 OPS so far in a notoriously pitching-friendly Florida State League. Every day and game, Gittens works on improving his play and reaching the next level.
"The main aspect of my game I could improve on is my defense, minimizing my strikeouts, not swinging at pitches that are up and away or in the dirt, and looking at sliders a lot more," Gittens humbly said.
Duncan knows there is several aspects of the game that Gittens needs to work on too but he believes Gittens has the drive and determination to reach the next level.
"The main aspects of the game that Gittens needs to work on his strike zone discipline and being on time [hitting]", Duncan opined.
Now more of a known force a little more than two full years into his professional career and nearly three years since getting selected by the Yankees, this season Gittens has high expectations of himself and believes he is even better than he was in last season's breakout power campaign.
"I want to hit twenty home runs. The beginning of last year I set the same goal, and ended up beating it with one home run, so I want to try to achieve that goal again. I know I am better than I was last year. I've improved on defense, fielding ground-balls, seeing pitches a lot more and [lowering] my strikeouts", Gittens said.
Duncan highlights that the best part of Gittens game, not surprisingly, is his power. In fact, for the rest of this season Duncan wants Gittens to simply stay healthy and keep working hard.
"He has unbelievable power. He knows that other teams are aware of his power, so he uses that as a major advantage to his game. He has tremendous talent. If he keeps working the way he's working things will take care of themselves", Duncan concluded.