Even without the video game-like numbers he compiled last year, Bo Bichette earned his second straight Futures Game appearance through consistency and grit. On Friday, he backed up the hype.
Video: Bichette's run-scoring single for New Hampshire
The Blue Jays' No. 2 prospect notched his first four-hit game of the season and first since July 31, driving in two runs and scoring another, as Double-A New Hampshire beat Portland, 5-3, at Hadlock Field.
Fisher Cats hitting coach Hunter Mense said Bichette's 4-for-5 night is a sign of the end of his second slump of the season, something he never really had to work through while putting up a .362/.423/.565 slash line across two Class A levels in 2017. The ability of MLB.com's No. 7 overall prospect to keep his average relatively steady for the bulk of the season has been where he's shown growth, Mense said.
"It was a good thing for him that he never went through that last year," the hitting coach said. "But this year in his first one, he was expanding his zone, and that meant he was trying to swing his way out of a slump. When he got to the second one, he got out quicker because he understood the same things he felt. He shrunk his zone a bit, and that's been the biggest thing for him all year -- swinging at the right pitch -- because with the path he takes, he swings clean and he can do some damage."
Gameday box score
Bichette found the right pitch after falling into a quick hole his first time up Friday. He took a ball from Teddy Stankiewicz, then fouled off a high strike before working the count to 2-1. After another foul tip, Bichette dug into an outside pitch and drove a grounder into right field for a double. He scored on Connor Panas' two-run homer.
"For any good hitter, you want to feel good in your first at-bat and get on board. It relaxes you and gives you a peace of mind, puts you at ease, and moreso than just getting a good hit, he got us rolling," Mense said. "Producing out of that hole was big, too, because that's not a place he wants to be. But everybody knows he's good with two strikes. He's gonna catch the plate and he's going to make you pay for it."
In the second, Bichette came up with two outs and runners on the corners and came through with a single to left that scored Eduard Pinto. With New Hampshire leading in the fourth, 4-1, he helped give starter Tayler Saucedo more cushion with an RBI single on a sharp grounder to right. After popping out in the sixth, the 2016 second-round pick drove another grounder to right for a single in the ninth.
Bichette boosted his average to .272, breaking out of a 4-for-39 slump that dated to June 30. After the game, he sped off to Washington, D.C. to join other elite prospects at the Futures Game. Mense said after talking to his shortstop, he could tell how big a deal last year's selection was. His statistics alone made him a relatively easy choice in 2017. For some of the baseball's most respected minds to recognize his development without those eye-popping numbers was a boost for the Orlando native.
"People understand and see what he's doing and understand that he's so young, yet doing well in a tough league," Mense said. "When people can see that you're making adjustments, that's great. And he's going to be around other great players headed to the big leagues, and he wants that and wants to be there for a long time. So to be around them in a game situation and go against great arms, that can only be good for him."