Potent Outfield Adds Extra Ammunition
Entering this week, the Ducks roster for 2016 already boasted a very strong outfield. Lew Ford has been a key piece to the franchise’s success since his arrival in 2009, with tremendous contributions both offensively and defensively that need no description. Fehlandt Lentini has impressed in two seasons with the Ducks, showing a consistent ability to hit (.290 AVG), use his speed (55 stolen bases, 4 caught stealing) and have a reliable glove (seven errors, 12 assists). Delta Cleary, Jr. joined Long Island in 2015 and brought very similar aspects to the lineup (.308 AVG, 34 stolen bases, 8 caught stealing, three errors). Then on Monday, the Ducks added yet another piece to fortify what was already a rock solid part of their team.
Blake Tekotte, who was signed on Monday, comes to Long Island with eight seasons of professional experience, all in affiliated baseball. Born and raised in Missouri, he parlayed a high school career into a college opportunity at the University of Miami. With the Hurricanes, he compiled a .327 batting average, 20 home runs and 105 RBI over three seasons and played with some future big league talent (Jemile Weeks, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal to name a few). He was drafted by the San Diego Padres as a third round pick in 2008, and just three years later, he reached “The Show.”
“It was kind of weird how I got called up,” said Tekotte via telephone this week. “I had a terrific month of April and then a ‘not as good’ month of May in Double-A. Then I got a phone call saying I had to pack my bags, and I thought I was probably going to Triple-A. Then they told me I was going to San Diego.”
After being called up on May 23, Tekotte earned his first Major League at-bat two days later at Petco Park. He entered the game as a pinch hitter for pitcher Mat Latos in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game. As he stepped into the batter’s box, he looked out to the mound and saw former Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star Chris Carpenter. Tekotte was facing the St. Louis Cardinals, the team he grew up watching.
“The first ball that I hit…I lined it out to right field,” he reminisced. “My buddy that I played with in college, Jon Jay, jumped up, snagged it and took a hit away from me. Ever since then, I’ve had some words to exchange with him.”
Jay might have robbed him of that first big league hit, but Tekotte would not have to wait too much longer for the moment to arrive. Three days later as the starting center fielder against the Washington Nationals, he stroked a double to right off of Jordan Zimmermann.
“Those were two pretty cool at-bats right in a row to start off my career in the big leagues,” he said.
Tekotte would play 19 games with the Padres in 2011 and 11 more in 2012. In November of the latter, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Brandon Kloess. The season saw him go back and forth between Chicago and Triple-A Charlotte, but come August, he was still without a big league homer. However, in the 48th game of his Major League career, Tekotte would round the bases for the first time.
The sixth inning solo homer off of Liam Hendriks put the White Sox up 2-1. Although they would eventually fall by a 3-2 margin, it was a moment that the newest Duck would never forget. Tekotte would play the following two games, but since that point, he has yet to crack a big league roster.
After spending 2015 with Double-A Portland in the Boston Red Sox organization and putting up solid numbers (.275 AVG, 20 RBI, 17 R in 40 games), the 28-year-old elected free agency on November 6. Looking for a place to continue playing, Tekotte’s sights began to turn to independent baseball and the Atlantic League. He began talking to many former members of the ALPB, including Ducks infielder Cody Puckett, who he played with in the White Sox organization, and Mike Blanke, who was teammates with him in Portland last year. The reports on the league, and specifically Long Island, were enough to convince Tekotte that this was the place for him.
“I’ve heard from a bunch of players that have played there before that had nothing but great things to say about it,” he noted. “They’ve said it’s a great atmosphere to play in and that you get treated very well around there.”
He went on to say, “I know that’s a real good league, and a lot of guys have gotten back into affiliated ball and made a good career out of it after coming from there.”
After some conversations with Ducks President/GM Michael Pfaff, Tekotte put pen to paper and joined a roster that is already full of familiar faces and some Major League talent as well. While the Ducks are surely happy to add a player with his skill and experience, the outfielder is just as eager to jump at this new opportunity. Some former big leaguers could take this role for granted, but not Tekotte.
“I’m very excited to join the Ducks, show what I can do and hopefully bring some wins and a little spark to the team.”
He added, “It’s exciting to just know that I have this opportunity in front of me, especially with a good support group at the Ducks and with my wife. She’s really excited about it, and we’re grateful for the opportunity. That’s for sure!”
A quick look at Tekotte’s career statistics show that he’s done it all in his career. He has demonstrated an ability to get on-base, like in 2010 with Single-A Lake Elsinore when he batted .310 and compiled a .419 on-base percentage, earning a California League All-Star selection. He has shown the ability to hit the long ball, launching a career-high 19 home runs in 2011 with Double-A San Antonio and 11 as recently as 2014 while with Triple-A Charlotte. That ability to be a productive hitter and possess some pop has offered his managers the versatility of being able to slot him anywhere in the lineup.
“I’ve hit everywhere from leadoff to the nine hole,” he noted. “I just like to spray the ball around a little bit in the gaps and be a little spark for the team.”
However, one aspect of his game that stands out is his defense. Tekotte played 49 games in the outfield last year and did not make a single error. In all 31 of his Major League appearances in the field, he also did not commit one error. In fact, the most errors he has committed in a single season was 10, done in 2014 with the White Sox and Diamondbacks organizations. Still, he has totaled as many as 13 assists in a season, which he accomplished in 2010 with Single-A Fort Wayne.
“I take a lot of pride in defense because at Miami, our assistant coach, Gino DiMare, taught us a lot about the outfield and the small things we all don’t usually pay attention to,” he recalled. “All of that made me such a better defender. Even when it was raining, instead of cancelling practice, us outfielders would go out and work on diving drills since it was wet. We would always have something to do, and I took great pride in that because I worked hard at it.”
Tekotte has also showed similar versatility in the field as he has in the lineup. He has played all three outfield positions throughout his career in both the Major Leagues and the minors. Although center field is his primary stomping grounds, he comes to the Ducks with a willingness and ability to play wherever he’s needed.
“I like to play all three actually,” Tekotte stated. “My favorite spot obviously is center field. That’s where I feel like I can run the most and kind of take control a little bit. But I’ve played left and right also in my career and am comfortable with all three.”
The biggest contribution that the Pensacola, Florida resident might make to the Ducks is his role in the clubhouse. Although a newcomer to the Ducks roster, he brings a wealth of experience to the team. He has been to the game’s highest level and spent time in several different organizations. He has also learned from some of the great minds in the game. Many on the roster are either younger than Tekotte or have never advanced as high as him. Despite being a new face, he hopes to share what he has learned with his new teammates.
“I also look to bring some leadership into the clubhouse and a relaxed atmosphere because I know how important that is throughout the year,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot in this game so far being around the people I have and with the experiences I’ve had. I just want to spread some knowledge to the guys and listen too. Every game that you play, there’s always something you haven’t seen before. That’s always the beauty of this game, and I always keep learning.”
This new opportunity with the Ducks presents many unique things for Tekotte. It gives him the opportunity to check out a new league that he has never been a part of and see just how strong the level of competition is. It provides a forum to share his knowledge of the game with those who hope to reach the big leagues some day or who are trying to get back there themselves. It presents a place to refine his own game, learn some new things and open up a gateway back to the Major Leagues. Most importantly though, it allows him the opportunity to keep playing baseball.
“I’m just thankful I can still put a jersey on,” he affirmed. “It’s a crazy business once you get to be my age in this and have been through it a little bit with free agency and uncertainty. I’m just thankful and lucky to have the opportunity to go out there and show that I can still play.”
Posted on March 24, 2016, in Player Signings and tagged 2016, Atlantic League, Bethpage Ballpark, Blake Tekotte, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cody Puckett, Long Island Ducks, Major League Baseball, Mike Blanke, Portland Sea Dogs, San Diego Padres. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.