By JED WEISBERGER
TRENTON, NJ – Back in the 2013 draft, the Yankees selected infielder Gosuke Katoh out of Rancho Bernardo High in the San Diego area in the second round.
Despite opinions from other teams that he was more of a fourth-round pick, the Yankees signed the now 6-foot-2, 200-pound infielder and gave him an $845,700 bonus to pull him away from a UCLA commitment. The Yankees took the chance.
The likeable Katoh, 23, who is batting .346 (9-fot-26) in the Double-A Trenton Thunder’s first seven games – all at home – is looking quite comfortable and confident both at bat and in the field in his first exposure to the upper minors.
This is after his best season, in which helped lead Class-A Advanced Tampa to a Florida State League playoff berth with a solid .293 (132-for-300) effort with 43 RBIs in 84 games.
“I feel really good so far, just trying to get accustomed to everything here,’’ said Katoh before Wednesday’s game in Trenton vs. the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. “I’m learning how to play in the cold, but I’m getting used to it. Everything has been great. I’m enjoying it all.’’
It wasn’t always like that for Katoh, who debuted professionally with the Gulf Coast Yankees in 2013, batting .310 (57-for-184) and driving in 25 runs in 50 games with an OPS of .924. Then, however, he struggled so much offensively at Charleston in 2014 and 2015 that he found himself back at Appalachian League Pulaski for the second half of 2015.
In 2016, with the RiverDogs, he also scuffled at .229 (50-for-218) in 65 games after a stint in Extended Spring Training.
Katoh’s career at the plate mirrors that of catcher Kyle Higashioka, who battled offensively before, as the late Gene (Stick) Michael credited, “taught himself how to hit’’ and became an offensive factor with power.
Apparently, Higashioka also taught Katoh a few things he taught himself as well. Maybe the Yankees need to bottle this.
‘’We’re both from Southern California, and Kyle and I worked a lot together out there. He gave me some tips and some things to focus on, and it really helped. What we did has really made a difference in my approach (at the plate).”
Thunder manager Jay Bell, who had Katoh at Tampa last year, agrees what the two players worked on has made a difference.
“Gosuke was a high draft choice who has worked hard and put himself back on the map,’’ Bell said. “It’s always great to see that because he’s a talented player who wants to get better. He did well for us last year, and he’s off to a nice start here.”
Katoh also mentioned how much he enjoys playing under this Trenton coaching staff.
“Right now, we have (Yankees Minor League Roving Hitting Instructor) Greg Colbrunn, who I worked with in Charleston, with us” he said. “He had a great career. And we have Ty Hawkins, who has been all over the organization helping guys. I feel like I’m in a real good spot here.’’
Thanks to a few, including Higashioka, there’s a good chance Katoh’s offensive struggles are over.