Mini-camp and spring training can only mean one thing; players are showing up to Bradenton in great shape and stories are being written about it. Sometimes this matters and sometimes it doesn't. Here at the In the Best Shape of His Life Files, we try to figure out which it is. The first case sent to the ITBSOHL Files this year is Jose Tabata.
Our first piece of evidence is Tabata Hopes Increased Strength Translates to Long Ball by Rob Biertempfel:
"Yeah, I'm bigger," Tabata said with a grin Wednesday morning, as he got ready for the third day of Pirates minicamp. "I worked out in the gym every day this winter. I want to be bigger and stronger. This year, my idea is to hit more home runs."
GM Neal Huntington is quoted in the same story as saying that Tabata's "bulked up a bit."
Our next piece of evidence comes from Colin Dunlap, who mentions Tabata's newfound bulkiness not once, but twice, saying that Tabata is "as strong as an ox. Maybe even a team of oxen," and it's "glaringly obvious how much brute strength he has."
Now, let's consider the circumstances. Tabata is, as Huntington mentions in Biertempfel's piece, just 22. He also has the sort of frame that you could see adding some considerable muscle to. Remember that when he was about 16 or 17, people were comparing him to Manny Ramirez because of the idea that he'd be able to add muscle to his frame and become a power hitter. It's also true that Tabata came into camp last year in great shape. I saw him play the previous August (2009) in Durham and though he wasn't exactly fat, there was still some baby fat around the edges. He looked entirely different in the spring; trim and ready to go. It wasn't something that I was guessing at; it was glaringly obvious. Compare these pictures to this one.
Verdict: Tabata's young and he's got a history of putting in solid off-season work. Dunlap didn't cover the Pirates much last year, but still thought that Tabata's newfound bulk jumped out at him. I'm gonna have to rule that Jose Tabata is in the best shape of his life, and that this is a good thing for Pirate fans.