EVERETT — The term “raw” is bandied about frequently in baseball circles. It’s used to describe a player who has the tools to be a quality player, but has yet to develop the polish on those skills. One could argue that it’s a term that’s thrown around a tad too frequently.
But if ever there was a player for which the term “raw” was appropriate, it’s Everett AquaSox outfielder Jabari Blash.
The combination of Blash’s impressive physical attributes and lack of baseball background make him the absolute definition of a raw prospect. But those attributes also make him one of the most-intriguing prospects on Everett’s roster.
“We definitely like him in the (Seattle Mariners) organization as far as an impact bat who could do some damage in the big leagues,” Everett manager Scott Steinmann said. “We like his upside. He has power, and he doesn’t look like he’s fast but he has good speed. We definitely like what he can do for us.”
Normally a 22-year-old outfielder playing in the Northwest League wouldn’t find himself listed very high on a major-league team’s prospect rankings. The best-regarded prospects among position players tend to come through short-season ball in their teens.
However, Blash has a unique set of circumstances. First there’s the physical characteristics. He cuts an imposing figure at 6-foot-4, and his long arms mean he’s able to hit the ball a long way.
But more significantly, Blash is still in his baseball infancy. The native of the Virgin Islands didn’t grow up playing baseball the way the rest of his AquaSox teammates did. We’ll let Blash explain himself just how new baseball is to him:
“My senior year (in high school) I played maybe seven games,” he said. “My first year in college was legitimately my first time just playing ball and being around baseball every day, having a coach and learning and really progressing as a baseball player.”
Indeed, when looking for a sport to pass the time as a youth, Blash tended to turn toward the basketball court. But an encounter with Darren Canton, who runs a baseball program in the Virgin Islands, changed Blash’s destiny.
“One day (Canton) came back to the Virgin Islands (after living in New York) and had a clinic just to see what talent they had back home,” Blash explained. “A couple of my friends convinced me to go. I went and had fun, and Darren convinced me to keep coming back. He really rubbed it in that I could be something in baseball.”
Canton wasn’t kidding. Blash was selected in the 29th round of the 2007 draft out of high school by the Chicago White Sox, despite having hardly played any baseball. He didn’t sign with the White Sox, instead choosing to attend Miami Dade Community College to gain more seasoning. He was selected again in the 2009 draft, being picked by the Texas Rangers in the ninth round, and again he didn’t sign. The Mariners selected him in the eighth round in 2010, and this time Blash decided he was ready to make the professional plunge.
Last season Blash made his professional debut with Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League. In 32 games he batted a respectable .266 with five home runs and 20 RBI. That was good enough for the Mariners to start him this season in Clinton of the mid single-A Northwest League. But Blash struggled in the Iowa cold, batting .218 in 42 games before being assinged to Everett for the start of the AquaSox’s season.
Since joining the Sox Blash has been Everett’s deadliest hitter. Going into Tuesday night’s game he was hitting .296 with six homers in 22 games. He was leading the team in homers, slugging percentage (.605) and OPS (.985).
“Overall I think I feel good about the season so far,” Blash said. “I wanted to work a lot on hitting offspeed pitches. That’s still a work in progress.”
But progress is the name of the game for Blash as he tries to make the transition from raw prospect to top prospect.
“This is his fifth year playing,” Steinmann said. “As far as pure baseball knowledge and instincts it’s not that great. But that’s what we’re here for. We’ve got to take it slow with him and make sure everything’s explained to him. That way he understands ‘why,’ and learns the game.”