Jagielo gets big-city preview in Class A
First-round pick hones craft at third base for Staten Island
NEW YORK -- Sitting in the third-base dugout at Staten Island's Richmond County Bank Ballpark, Eric Jagielo knows where he is. Just over the outfield wall, across New York's Upper Bay dotted with freighters, sits Lower Manhattan. Twelve miles north, as the FDR winds, is Yankee Stadium.
Jagielo is so close, but it could take years to get there -- and not just because of the traffic.
"I think it's good exposure for us," Jagielo said recently about beginning his professional career at short-season Class A in the same city he one day hopes will be home. "I think it makes it a little bit of an easier transition for us. You have the ability to go into New York City and kind of experience what that would be like, perhaps, if you do end up making it with the highest club."
That transition began just seven weeks ago, when the Yankees made Jagielo (pronounced ja-guy-lo) their first pick -- the 26th overall -- in the First-Year Player Draft. He's now their No. 5 prospect in MLB.com's new rankings, seemingly on an express train to the Bronx.
"He's a real polished hitter," Staten Island hitting coach Ty Hawkins said. "He's got a real good idea of what he's doing at the plate and doesn't get flustered. He has a good plan of attack. Just a professional hitter, with a professional approach right now."
Jagielo honed that approach at Notre Dame, capping his three-year career with the 2013 Big East Player of the Year Award after hitting .388, slugging .633 and reaching base half the time he came to bat (a .500 on-base percentage on the nose). His career stats make for a nice full MLB season: 626 at-bats (albeit in 167 games), .321 batting average, 201 hits, 47 doubles, 27 home runs, 124 RBIs and 88 walks against 97 strikeouts. Jagielo slugged .532 and reached base at a .420 clip.
But Jagielo's success hasn't all come with a metal bat in a northern college league. Last summer in the Cape Cod League, against some of the best college arms from around the country, he hit .291 in 42 games with a wood bat, finishing second in the summer circuit with 13 home runs and ranking 10th with 29 RBIs.
"He's a little bit further along than the other [hitters] right now, but that's to be expected because he's a college guy from a good program," Hawkins said. "He's a good, smart kid, with ability. Most of the younger kids, that's what they're going to develop into, where he is right now."
As a hitter, Jagielo already has a smooth left-handed stroke that should play well at Yankee Stadium. But his work at the hot corner may be more impressive, because he's only been playing the position for about two years.
"I'm still learning, and that's what I'm enjoying about it," said Jagielo, who played shortstop in high school near Chicago and began his Notre Dame career as a center and left fielder before landing at third base midway through his sophomore year. "I'm trying to soak in all the information from the different coaches and different resources in this organization to get better at that."
One of those resources was Alex Rodriguez, who was rehabbing at the Yankees' complex in Tampa, Fla., when Jagielo and the other Draftees were working out there before getting their team assignments.
"I took a lot of advice from him," Jagielo said. "One of our infield coordinators was here a few weeks ago, and he helped me out a lot. But the main one that sticks out is Alex Rodriguez.
"I think one thing that some people don't realize about the position is that it's not just a filler position -- you have to know what you're doing over there in order to be a great defender there. I think that it's all a process, but I'm taking steps in the right direction."
Staten Island manager Justin Pope agrees.
"He's a worker, he's getting better each and every day, which is nice to see," Pope said. "Even though he hasn't played there much, it looks like he has a good feel of how to play the position. Certain hitters come up, he knows when to play in for the bunt, he knows when he can go back and play at a normal depth. He's got a really good feel over there."
As Jagielo continues to get used to manning third and playing day in and day out, he's also becoming acclimated to one other well-known aspect of playing baseball in New York.
"[Playing here] I think it just gives you a taste of what the New York fans are like, too," he said, grinning. "Just because we're the lowest level, some of these fans aren't the easiest on us. You hear some things and you hear some boos and stuff, so I think it's just a good way to kind of see what New York's all about and just kind of experience everything about what this great city brings."
Dan Cichalski is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.