Azocar preaching patience at plate during AFL

October 10th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- The first pitch to Tigers prospect Jose Azocar from Surprise starter A.J. Alexy in the second inning Wednesday was a fastball down the middle of the plate.

Azocar took it for a called strike.

Two innings later, the Mesa Solar Sox outfielder watched a similar pitch cross the dish and he took that one for a first-pitch strike, too.

On the surface, it might appear as if Azocar is quickly falling behind, but the reality is, the young hitter is moving forward. He’s taking pitches -- and yes, sometimes they are strikes -- but he’s not swinging at everything anymore. And that is a step in the right direction.

The Tigers believe Azocar can be a star one day if he works on his plate discipline and improves his understanding of the strike zone. That’s why they sent him to the Arizona Fall League in the first place.

“We don’t want him to chase as much, but we don’t want him up there being passive,” said Mesa manager Mike Rabelo, who has managed Azocar across three Minor League levels with Detroit. “Part of the reason he is such a good player is because of how aggressive he is on the bases and swinging the bat. Instead of looking it as just taking walks, the message we sent was to not swing at everything. He’s getting better at it.”

So far, Azocar is hitting .214 with six walks and seven strikeouts in eight games for the Solar Sox. On Wednesday afternoon, he went 0-for-4 in his team’s 12-10 loss in extra innings to the Saguaros at Sloan Park. Surprise scored four runs in the top of the 10th, three on a home run by Rylan Bannon (Orioles) for his third hit of the game to put it away.

Bannon’s teammates Mason McCoy (Orioles) and Josh Stowers (Yankees) also had three hits each. Bubba Thompson (Rangers), Kyle Isbel (Royals) and Jax Biggers (Rangers) had two apiece.

For Mesa, Angels No. 2 prospect Brandon Marsh hit two doubles and a triple while driving in two runs in the loss. Greg Deichmann (A’s) also had three hits, including a triple and a home run, while Zach Short (Cubs) and Alfonso Rivas (A’s) had two hits each for Mesa.

As for Azocar, he also took the first pitch during his at-bat in the fifth inning. It was called a ball and he eventually walked on five pitches. He didn’t swing at the first pitch in sixth -- it was a ball -- and he worked the count full before walking on the sixth pitch. He fouled off the first pitch in the eighth before he grounded out to Biggers at short on the fifth pitch with the count at 2-2.

He swung at all four pitches and grounded out in his final at-bat of the game in the 10th.

“I feel like the biggest area for me to work on is the strike zone,” Azocar, 23, said in Spanish. “Sometimes, I’m not selective at all and I fall for the ‘chase pitch’ way too much. I just have to be consistent in that area. The other parts of my game? I feel like I’m showing my abilities. We all have things we are working on and that’s mine.”

Azocar struck out 132 times and only walked 21 times in 129 games for Double-A Erie in 2019. He still racked up 144 hits, which included 21 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs. He also drove in 58 runs and stole 10 bases. He struck out 85 times and walked 14 times in 109 games between Class A West Michigan and Class A Advanced Lakeland in '18.

Azocar, who signed out of Venezuela in the winter of 2012, made his pro debut with the Tigers the next summer in the Venezuelan Summer League. He began his career in the United States in '15 with the organization’s Rookie League team.

“He’s grown and matured in all areas as a baseball player and as a person,” Rabelo said. “When he came over here, he was just a young kid with a not a lot of game experience and throughout the course of the last couple of seasons, he has stayed healthy and has been able to improve in every little aspect.”

The outfielder’s next goal is to get invited to Major League Spring Training. But for now, he’s focused on his work inside the batter’s box.

“Fall League has been fun,” he said. “There are a lot of good and high quality pitchers that have challenged me. I feel like I’ve adjusted.”