Scouting Yankee Prospect #43: Justin Christian

The Yankees signed infielder, Justin Christian out of the Frontier League in 2004 and he would go on to play most of the season with Staten Island. His big bat, speed and defensive skills have led the Yankees to believe that they may have found a solid prospect. It's these reasons that he's our #43 Yankee's prospect. Here's a scouting report on Justin Christian.

Vital Statistics
Name: Justin Christian
Position: Second Base, Third Base
DOB: April 3, 1980
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 188
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How Acquired: The Yankees signed Justin Christian out of the Frontier League in June of the 2004 season and assigned him to the Gulf Coast Yankees.

Not only did Christian have a very fine season by NY-Penn League offensive standards but he also carried the dormant lineup for most of the season. "We battled all year but just had a hard time getting over the hump," said Christian of the disappointing season for the Staten Island club. Here is a guy who came a long way back and all of a sudden he is a key component to a Yankee Farm team. Who would have thought? To be honest, he himself may have just about given up hope not long before the Yankees swooped in and rescued him from the Independent League, River City Rascals. "This past summer was my last year of ball. I was giving it one last run hoping it would be the chance I've always wanted. I nearly gave it up before I went to the Independent League. I was an All-American in college and still got no chance. I didn't know what else I had to do." Granted, Christian did miss the entire 2002 season to rotator cuff surgery. But, the next season, he came back with an excellent, All-American season after transferring to Southeast Missouri. "I was told by some scouts to put up decent numbers and the scouts would be there, but that didn't happen. I guess it really has to do with the coaches and their involvement with the scouts. I went to a small Div. I school so there weren't many scouts, but you would think word of mouth would travel, right?," a puzzled Justin Christian said. Well, to his dismay, it didn't work out quite that way.

For someone to hold onto the game long enough like Justin Christian has, it is obvious that he had a good upbringing in the game. But, also, he has learned to know that baseball can be a humbling game. It is not as if he eventually does come up short in his baseball career, he won't have a backup plan. "My education is very important. I can get injured tomorrow, but my college degree will be there forever," Christian says. Justin is more than aware that the game can be taken away at any time. It's easy for someone that has learned to truly appreciate the game so well. "I know that things aren't guaranteed in this game as well as in life," said Christian. "I could be released in spring training next year, who knows, all I can do is control the things that I can control." And, for one minute, don't think that Justin Christian doesn't know just how lucky he is. "I know that the desire and motivation I have to play this game comes from within. The adversity that I've had to endure, just to continue to play baseball has been a lot to overcome. Injuries, set backs, scouts telling me I wasn't good enough, all motivates me to be the best at what I do." For that matter, Justin Christian always seems to have been modest, even in his high school days. "I attended Aragon High School in San Mateo, CA. I batted around .380 and had roughly 25 stolen bases, nothing too amazing." By most other standards, that would be a spectacular season, but for Christian, it was just another year. It isn't every young player that hangs onto the game that long, but even looking back at the origins of his career, we can see the attitude that kept him going.

Needless to say, not one scout came knocking at Aragon High School looking for Justin Christian's services but that didn't stop him from playing baseball at Auburn University. But, just as it looked as if Christian was about to become a stud college player, bad luck struck again. "I was injured the entire year at Auburn in 2001. I still played every game but my stats suffered. I batted around .250 but I did have 18 stolen bases and a pair of HR's." The next season, Christian did not see any action as he was forced to undergo rotator cuff surgery. Once again, if you know Justin Christian, it would take a lot more than that to discourage him. "I try to play hard every game even though I may injure myself." Yes, he did injure himself but it was not slowing him down. It would be the 2003 season that looked like the second baseman's big break. He had a fabulous season and became one of the best second baseman in the country, being named an All-American at that position. "That year was a huge year for me. I was able to win a few different awards because of my play."

Considering an All-American season, one would think that Justin Christian would be a hot commodity in the 2003 draft. However, Christian went completely undrafted. "I guess that's the way it goes sometimes," Christian said in regards to the draft. "I pondered it for a long while on what was going on with my baseball career. I was always told that if you put up the numbers, then you would be given a chance but that wasn't the case until this summer." He eventually decided to stick with baseball and set out for the Frontier League to play for the Independent, River City Rascals. "I had one month last year summer with River City to get the hang of the wooden bat. You have to be a little more selective in what pitches you swing at or you'll break your bat or even hurt yourself."

After a brief stint with River City in 2003, Justin Christian went back for a second year there in 2004. However, this was going to be his last go around if he wasn't discovered. But, the pleasant news is that he never had to make that decision. The Yankees signed him in June and, at long last, Justin Christian had a chance to prove he could be a professional player. "I look at this game as a game of luck and chance, you get your chance because of good play but also the intangibles or a need," said Justin about his long awaited dose of good fortune. "I'm just very thankful that I was given this opportunity." He will most likely be on his way to Tampa next season to play High A ball and there isn't a doubt about what kind of effort we will get from him. His appreciation for the game is truly unmatched. Christian attributes that appreciation to his father, his biggest influence on his career. "I would say the best piece of advice that he gave me was play everyday like its your last because you can't take back what you did yesterday." Justin Christian ended up having an excellent season with Staten Island in 2004, leading the charge for Staten Island with a .274 batting average and leading the club with 7 home runs and 14 stolen bases.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2b

HR

RBI

R

SB BB SO OBP

SLG

2004

GCL

.571

7

3

0

4

1

0 4 0 .727

1.000

2004

Staten Island

.274

208

9

7

33

29

14 19 39 .336

.438


Justin Christian's Self-Scouting Report:

Batting and Power. "I'm very aggressive at the plate but typically leadoff hitters are patient so I had that problem to deal with. I really didn't start hitting for power until my sophomore yr. I was able to work with a hitting coach for 3 yrs and he really helped my use my entire body. I'm not really big so I had to be real efficient with my swing." Justin Christian now does have a lot of power and has a pretty short swing that will help him move up the ladder fairly smoothly. He may not hit for a .300 average but he could be a solid contact hitter with good pop. Justin profiles as a solid run producer with a lot of speed in his game as well. He won't be an impact hitter but a dangerous one nonetheless.

Base Running and Speed. "I just try to play my game. Speed is what I have and I tried to utilize that as much as possible. I still have things to work on such as getting on base more so that I can give myself more opportunities to steal." The speedy Justin Christian looks to have the potential to steal 30 bases annually on the Major League level. (Note: Christian stole 26 bases in 30 games in River City and 14 steals in 50 games in Staten Island in 2004.)

Defense. "I pride myself on defense and like to think that its my best attribute. The more positions you can play the better I've been told. I played some outfield this year too. The throw from the outfield is a bit different than the infield but feels a bit better because you can get more into your throw." Christian has shown the potential to play multiple positions well, including second base, third base and outfield. (In a combined 53 games in 2004, Christian committed 5 errors.)

Projection. There is not much doubt that the Yankees may have picked up a nice bargain when they signed Justin Christian. While he is not a star in the making, he looks to be a solid ballplayer in the future. With his speed and defense, Christian gives himself a chance even if his bat doesn't develop. However, if his offense continues to improve, look for Christian to be a very serviceable major league player in only a couple of years. He is a little older than the prototypical prospect so expect him to be moved quickly through the organization.

ETA. 2007. No one can expect Justin Christian to be the average prospect because of his already advanced age. He is already 24 years old so the Yankees will be forced to start him in, at least, High A Tampa next season. Then, in 2005 he should be start the season with the AA Trenton Thunder with a possibility of a promotion to AAA Columbus. After that, he may have a shot with the Yankees or another MLB team for the 2007 season.

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