A Benchmark Year For Justin Christian

Undrafted and signed out of Independent League baseball, Justin Christian has more than proven he can handle the A-levels of affiliated baseball. Now asked to become a utility player in the outfield to improve his versatility, Justin Christian realizes his time at the AA-level in 2006 will be the deciding factor in his possible Major League career.

Justin Christian began his first full season of affiliated minor league baseball stealing 17 bases in his 29 games with the Riverdogs in 2005, showcasing the type of exciting base running and hustle seldom found in today's players. As impressive as it was, Christian believes he could have done even better.

"I think my wrist injury that plagued me earlier in the season set me back a little bit and cost me a few bags [stolen bases]," Christian revealed. "I hurt sliding into the bag in one of my first games with Charleston."

And when he stole 38 bases in 95 games with the Tampa Yankees, Christian once again thought he could have done more.

"I wasn't able to steal third base when I first got to Tampa," said Christian. "I think they wanted to let the guys behind me drive me in, you know, see if they could do it. I probably would have had five more bags [stolen bases] or so. The green light was on when we weren't scoring many runs."

He led the organization with 55 stolen bases, hit a combined .303 in his two stops between Charleston and Tampa, racked up 32 doubles and 11 home runs, and hit very well with runners in scoring position. While most prospects would be happy with that kind of performance, Christian just can't stop believing he could have done more.

Displaying a mature approach to the game, including a rare respect for the unspoken rules, could be the product of his age. Christian, who will be 26-years old once the 2006 season begins play, still has garnered the attention of many scouts in spite of his age.

"It is frustrating to hear about the age thing," said Christian. "Playing baseball at this level, at any age, is extremely hard. I wasn't drafted and with the injury, I started a little bit later than most guys. I think if I'm able to get into AA this year, I'm right where I need to be from where I started."

One of the apparent scenarios to help Christian get to the higher levels is to improve his versatility. With the 23-year old Robinson Cano locked up for the foreseeable future, the Yankees want to try and mold Christian into a utility player.

"It is more viable for me where I can play a number of different outfield positions to go along with second base so I can move up the organization quicker," an excited Christian admitted. "With Cano at second base and with Gabe Lopez in AAA, it makes it a little tough to make it at that one position. I'll be more valuable as a utility guy. I want to stay in the lineup everyday and this should allow me to do that. I'm all for it."

Enthusiastic about his possible new role, Justin Christian still isn't exactly sure which position he'll be playing in 2006. With no concrete options for the second base spot with the Trenton Thunder next year, some have speculated that Christian might remain at second base.

"I don't know," Christian said of which position he'll be playing predominantly in 2006. "I'm in the dark. I've been training at second base and the outfield. But from the looks of it, I'm going to play a little more in the outfield, but I'm prepared to do both."

Realizing where he plays is out of his control, Christian is ready for anything. He just wants the opportunity to play.

"All I can control is the way I play," said Christian. "I'm very comfortable moving up. I think you could still put up pretty decent numbers and still not move up sometimes. Sometimes you're just the low man on the totem pole. I think I have a shot. When it comes to moving up, I can't control that. I have to play well in order for them to move me up."

Playing well hasn't been a problem for Justin Christian thus far in his career. He played two seasons in the Independent Frontier League, including a .450 average with 5 home runs and 26 stolen bases in just 30 games with River City in 2004 before signing with the Yankees later that same summer.

"It took me a couple of years to get back to 100 percent," Christian admitted. "Getting over the mental aspect was the hardest part. With the rotator cuff injury, you're dealing with the soreness, the pain, throwing with a different arm angle, etc. I feel like my arm is stronger than it has been in years past. I've been able to strengthen my arm to play the infield and the outfield."

An offensive catalyst unlike most players that have come through the Yankees' farm system, Christian's offensive game reminds some, including Justin himself, of a former Yankee farmhand.

"If I had to say somebody, I would say Alfonso Soriano," Christian said who his game compares to. "Like me, he's a wiry guy who is very strong. He's got great power numbers and I'm more of a contact guy myself. But I'm also not your typical leadoff hitter. When I get on base, I utilize my speed. I do my best to hit it [the ball] where it is pitched. I really don't know who I'm like at the Major League level. I kind of fashion my game after the old timers."

With a game built around his base running, Justin Christian has put together a ridiculous 87% stolen base success rate in his professional career, including his time in the Frontier League. In fact, even more impressive is the fact that he has struck out just 24 more times than he has stolen bases in his time as a pro.

"I might not be the fastest guy in the system," Christian easily admits. "But speed alone doesn't necessarily give you the most stolen bases. If you don't know how to run the bases, it doesn't do you any good. I don't claim to be the fastest guy. I just want to be a smart base runner."

Christian's command of the strike zone, his uncanny contact hitting ability, and his incredible base running are the reasons the Yankees are finding any way possible to not only keep him in the lineup, but to create a path for him to the Major Leagues.

"It depends pretty much on this year," Christian said of his future Major League career. "I think the last couple of seasons were more to see if I can play affiliated minor league baseball. I thank God and the Yankees that I've had an opportunity to play and a great chance to put up some good numbers. I think AA will be the big test to see if I can play in the Major Leagues or not."

While both Justin Christian and the Yankees are confident in his abilities, it is Christian's passion for the game and obsession with excellence that make him different from most minor league ball players.

"I'm going to do nothing but take full advantage of that," Christian said if he's given the chance to start with Trenton. "If get the chance to play everyday, I feel confident I can do it. I think the key to a good year is to stay healthy throughout the season and not get hurt. I'm going to be doing my best to stay healthy."

Christian feels that, if he's able to stay healthy and if he's given an opportunity to play everyday, there isn't anything he can't handle. While he is slated to begin the year in AA-Trenton, he is confident he could be successful at the higher levels right now.

"I'm ready for that," Christian said of playing in AA. "If they put me in AAA, I'll come with an excitement and it will show in my play."

Putting his heart out on the field and playing with passion and hustle on every play are Christian's signature attributes as a player. Realizing he needs to make his move now, he simply wants to be given the chance to prove his worth on the field.

"I just want the opportunity," Christian told us. "All I want is the chance. If I fail, I fail. But I want to be able to get the opportunity to show people I can play at that level. It is not my goal to have a great minor league career."

"If you play me, you're going to see good stuff," Christian continued. "I can't wait. I'm going to bust my butt to play the outfield. I've been picking the minds of guys like Kevin Thompson. I know I can play the outfield. It is just a matter of experience. No guy just steps into a new position and has it come naturally. I've been working harder in the outfield [during the offseason] because I've been doing infield my whole life."

Preparing himself to fill any role the Yankees need, including playing all three outfield spots in 2006, Justin Christian knows that success at the AA is the ultimate litmus test for minor leaguers and the reason he believes it could be a make or break year in his development.

"I hope so," Christian said of possibly starting the year with the AA-Trenton Thunder. "I'm on the AA roster for Spring Training, but you never know. This is going to be a benchmark year for me. I think this is the year where the Yankees are looking to find out if I can play on a Major League level by tackling AA. They say that's a pretty good indicator."

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nJustin Christian began his first full season of affiliated minor league baseball stealing 17 bases in his 29 games with the Riverdogs in 2005, showcasing the type of exciting base running and hustle seldom found in today's players. As impressive as it was, Christian believes he could have done even better.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think my wrist injury that plagued me earlier in the season set me back a little bit and cost me a few bags [stolen bases],\" Christian revealed. \"I hurt sliding into the bag in one of my first games with Charleston.\"
\r\n
\r\nAnd when he stole 38 bases in 95 games with the Tampa Yankees, Christian once again thought he could have done more.
\r\n
\r\n\"I wasn't able to steal third base when I first got to Tampa,\" said Christian. \"I think they wanted to let the guys behind me drive me in, you know, see if they could do it. I probably would have had five more bags [stolen bases] or so. The green light was on when we weren't scoring many runs.\"
\r\n
\r\nHe led the organization with 55 stolen bases, hit a combined .303 in his two stops between Charleston and Tampa, racked up 32 doubles and 11 home runs, and hit very well with runners in scoring position. While most prospects would be happy with that kind of performance, Christian just can't stop believing he could have done more.
\r\n
\r\nDisplaying a mature approach to the game, including a rare respect for the unspoken rules, could be the product of his age. Christian, who will be 26-years old once the 2006 season begins play, still has garnered the attention of many scouts in spite of his age.
\r\n
\r\n\"It is frustrating to hear about the age thing,\" said Christian. \"Playing baseball at this level, at any age, is extremely hard. I wasn't drafted and with the injury, I started a little bit later than most guys. I think if I'm able to get into AA this year, I'm right where I need to be from where I started.\"
\r\n
\r\nOne of the apparent scenarios to help Christian get to the higher levels is to improve his versatility. With the 23-year old Robinson Cano locked up for the foreseeable future, the Yankees want to try and mold Christian into a utility player.
\r\n
\r\n\"It is more viable for me where I can play a number of different outfield positions to go along with second base so I can move up the organization quicker,\" an excited Christian admitted. \"With Cano at second base and with Gabe Lopez in AAA, it makes it a little tough to make it at that one position. I'll be more valuable as a utility guy. I want to stay in the lineup everyday and this should allow me to do that. I'm all for it.\"
\r\n
\r\nEnthusiastic about his possible new role, Justin Christian still isn't exactly sure which position he'll be playing in 2006. With no concrete options for the second base spot with the Trenton Thunder next year, some have speculated that Christian might remain at second base.
\r\n
\r\n\"I don't know,\" Christian said of which position he'll be playing predominantly in 2006. \"I'm in the dark. I've been training at second base and the outfield. But from the looks of it, I'm going to play a little more in the outfield, but I'm prepared to do both.\"
\r\n
\r\nRealizing where he plays is out of his control, Christian is ready for anything. He just wants the opportunity to play.
\r\n
\r\n\"All I can control is the way I play,\" said Christian. \"I'm very comfortable moving up. I think you could still put up pretty decent numbers and still not move up sometimes. Sometimes you're just the low man on the totem pole. I think I have a shot. When it comes to moving up, I can't control that. I have to play well in order for them to move me up.\"
\r\n
\r\nPlaying well hasn't been a problem for Justin Christian thus far in his career. He played two seasons in the Independent Frontier League, including a .450 average with 5 home runs and 26 stolen bases in just 30 games with River City in 2004 before signing with the Yankees later that same summer.
\r\n
\r\n\"It took me a couple of years to get back to 100 percent,\" Christian admitted. \"Getting over the mental aspect was the hardest part. With the rotator cuff injury, you're dealing with the soreness, the pain, throwing with a different arm angle, etc. I feel like my arm is stronger than it has been in years past. I've been able to strengthen my arm to play the infield and the outfield.\"
\r\n
\r\nAn offensive catalyst unlike most players that have come through the Yankees' farm system, Christian's offensive game reminds some, including Justin himself, of a former Yankee farmhand.
\r\n
\r\n\"If I had to say somebody, I would say Alfonso Soriano,\" Christian said who his game compares to. \"Like me, he's a wiry guy who is very strong. He's got great power numbers and I'm more of a contact guy myself. But I'm also not your typical leadoff hitter. When I get on base, I utilize my speed. I do my best to hit it [the ball] where it is pitched. I really don't know who I'm like at the Major League level. I kind of fashion my game after the old timers.\"
\r\n
\r\nWith a game built around his base running, Justin Christian has put together a ridiculous 87% stolen base success rate in his professional career, including his time in the Frontier League. In fact, even more impressive is the fact that he has struck out just 24 more times than he has stolen bases in his time as a pro.
\r\n
\r\n\"I might not be the fastest guy in the system,\" Christian easily admits. \"But speed alone doesn't necessarily give you the most stolen bases. If you don't know how to run the bases, it doesn't do you any good. I don't claim to be the fastest guy. I just want to be a smart base runner.\"
\r\n
\r\nChristian's command of the strike zone, his uncanny contact hitting ability, and his incredible base running are the reasons the Yankees are finding any way possible to not only keep him in the lineup, but to create a path for him to the Major Leagues.
\r\n
\r\n\"It depends pretty much on this year,\" Christian said of his future Major League career. \"I think the last couple of seasons were more to see if I can play affiliated minor league baseball. I thank God and the Yankees that I've had an opportunity to play and a great chance to put up some good numbers. I think AA will be the big test to see if I can play in the Major Leagues or not.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhile both Justin Christian and the Yankees are confident in his abilities, it is Christian's passion for the game and obsession with excellence that make him different from most minor league ball players.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm going to do nothing but take full advantage of that,\" Christian said if he's given the chance to start with Trenton. \"If get the chance to play everyday, I feel confident I can do it. I think the key to a good year is to stay healthy throughout the season and not get hurt. I'm going to be doing my best to stay healthy.\"
\r\n
\r\nChristian feels that, if he's able to stay healthy and if he's given an opportunity to play everyday, there isn't anything he can't handle. While he is slated to begin the year in AA-Trenton, he is confident he could be successful at the higher levels right now.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm ready for that,\" Christian said of playing in AA. \"If they put me in AAA, I'll come with an excitement and it will show in my play.\"
\r\n
\r\nPutting his heart out on the field and playing with passion and hustle on every play are Christian's signature attributes as a player. Realizing he needs to make his move now, he simply wants to be given the chance to prove his worth on the field.
\r\n
\r\n\"I just want the opportunity,\" Christian told us. \"All I want is the chance. If I fail, I fail. But I want to be able to get the opportunity to show people I can play at that level. It is not my goal to have a great minor league career.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"If you play me, you're going to see good stuff,\" Christian continued. \"I can't wait. I'm going to bust my butt to play the outfield. I've been picking the minds of guys like Kevin Thompson. I know I can play the outfield. It is just a matter of experience. No guy just steps into a new position and has it come naturally. I've been working harder in the outfield [during the offseason] because I've been doing infield my whole life.\"
\r\n
\r\nPreparing himself to fill any role the Yankees need, including playing all three outfield spots in 2006, Justin Christian knows that success at the AA is the ultimate litmus test for minor leaguers and the reason he believes it could be a make or break year in his development.
\r\n
\r\n\"I hope so,\" Christian said of possibly starting the year with the AA-Trenton Thunder. \"I'm on the AA roster for Spring Training, but you never know. This is going to be a benchmark year for me. I think this is the year where the Yankees are looking to find out if I can play on a Major League level by tackling AA. They say that's a pretty good indicator.\"
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