The Yankees made a statement by moving their top 2013 Draft pick up to Tampa to start the season. And for those waiting to see how Eric Jagielo responded, the results are promising.
Making just his sixth Class A Advanced start, Jagielo homered for the third straight game Wednesday afternoon to power Tampa to a 5-3 triumph over Clearwater.
Selected 26th overall last June, Jagielo slugged a three-run shot with two outs in the fifth inning off Clearwater starter Ethan Stewart to give Tampa a 4-1 lead. The 21-year-old third baseman finished 3-for-5, giving him six hits in his last three games after beginning the season in an 0-for-10 funk.
"It's one of those things where you go in every day and put together the best at-bats you can. I got a pitch, hanging curveball, and fortunately I put enough of a good swing on it," Jagielo said. "One thing led to another and it went out."
One thing led to another and Jagielo went from a Notre Dame junior to first-round Draft pick. He got a taste of the Minor Leagues last summer but is finally feeling like he belongs in the Florida State League. The Yankees' No. 5 prospect started the streak on April 6 with a solo homer off Lakeland's Endrys Briceno in an 8-5 loss. He followed that two days later with a two-run drive off Clearwater's Colin Kleven in a 7-6 win, a game in which the Illinois native went 2-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
"Going from Staten Island to instructs to Spring Training to finding out where you're going to be, it's been new to me. I'm kind of starting to settle down a little, and now you know where you're going to be, you start getting into routines," Jagielo said. "I just didn't know what to expect going through my first Spring Training -- you're anxious, you're happy to get sent to Tampa. I was excited to get sent to Tampa and now I'm getting into the first week, getting stuff rolling and kind of getting familiar."
Jagielo began Wednesday's game by grounding out to end the first inning and again leading off the fourth. He got on track in the fifth with a drive to center after fellow first-rounder Cito Culver doubled and Jake Cave reached on a fielder's choice. The home run chased Stewart, but Jagielo smacked a leadoff double in the seventh off reliever Lino Martinez and added a two-out single in the ninth off Colton Murray.
Clearwater threatened in the bottom of the ninth when Anthony Phillips hit a two-run triple, but reliever James Pazos got Peter Lavin to line to Jagielo at third to end the game at Bright House Field.
Jagielo -- the 2013 Big East Conference Player of th Year -- batted .264 with six homers, 27 RBIs, 21 extra-base hits and a .376 on-base percentage in 51 games last season, mostly with short-season Staten Island. He was the first of the Yankees' three first-round picks, joining outfielder Aaron Judge (No. 32) and left-hander Ian Clarkin (No. 33). Judge began the season with Class A Charleston, while Clarkin remains in extended spring training.
"We're excited about all three of those kids we took in the first round -- we're looking for a big year from Jagielo," Yankees vice president and director of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer told MiLB.com last month. "We'll see how Judge plays, and once Clarkin gets going -- he had an impressive Spring Training. All three of those guys can be good, but Jagielo is a little further along. He played last year, so I think he might be closest to doing some moving."
Jagielo credits his time in Tampa -- before he actually was assigned to Tampa -- for his comfort level.
"I think it's just a combination of getting to know yourself as a player and just maturing and growing up a little bit," he said. "I was able to talk with older guys -- I was talking to Alex Rodriguez, to Derek Jeter and to instructors who have been around and have big league experience. You show up early and you're around the same guys, just talking and picking their brains.
"A couple things hit me: I know I've got to have the ability to do something with pitch selection, and that goes along with plate discipline. I think that's the biggest thing I've worked on. I don't know how many strikeouts I've had this season, but that's something I learned from Spring Training, feeling out the zone. And you can feel anxious, but I've made an adjustment in my stance to allow me to start hitting. You start getting to pitches you can do something with, and I'm finding pitches I can drive."
Jagielo said the adjustment came from video analysis of his swing during Spring Training.
"I wasn't doing as well as I wanted to, and our hitting coach was watching videos and comparing them from where I was in Spring Training to last season, and my body wasn't as straight up, my posture a little more bent over and it was allowing me to stay on top of the ball," he explained.
As for the home run streak, it's not weighing on his mind much. It's only April 9, after all.
"I think that's one of the things I'm learning, now that I'll be playing 140 games -- you kind of have to take things day by day and whatever happens, happens. Whether you're 0-for-4 with two strikeouts or 2-for-5 with a homer, I'm just planning to stay with the plan and sticking with it."
Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow his MLBlog, Minoring in Twitter.