TRENTON, N.J. – As the June sun heated up five years ago, the Yankess, whose first pick in that year’s draft was in the 51st position, thought they got a sizzling steal in Dante Bichette Jr.
After all, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound infielder both passed the eye test and caught many eyes as a star player at Orangewood Christian High in Maitland, Fla. Neither did it hurt that his dad, of the same name, had a solid 14-year career as a major-leaguer.
Bichette Jr. started OK in the Gulf Coast League in 2011, batting .342 (67-for-196) in 52 games, earning a cameo at Staten Island before the year ended. Then there was inconsistency through two seasons at Charleston, a decent stretch at Tampa and more scuffling at Double-A Trenton.
Did things come too easily in the beginning, given his dad’s career? Perhaps not.
“Really, it took me three years after I signed to realize how much work it takes to play this game and succeed,” said Bichette. “There’s a lot to it, and now I am dedicating myself to it.”
That was over a year ago in Trenton, and Bichette never seemed to get comfortable at the plate, batting .223 (93-for-442) in 112 games with Tampa and Trenton.
So many wondered just where Bichette would start, and how he would play, returning to Trenton to start another season in 2016. So far, the now 23-year-old is playing like a top-round draft pick, He entered Thursday night’s Trenton game at Manchester N.H. vs. the New Hampshire Fisher Cats hitting .333 (6-for-18) with a pair of home runs and a team-leading six RBIs.
One home run gave the Thunder a win, the other tied a game Trenton eventually lost in extra innings. He came through with a pair of RBIs in Thursday night’s game vs. the Fisher Cats to give the Thunder an early lead.
“Dante is off to a nice start,” said Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell. “So far, both at-bat and in the field, where he has played a nice third base, he’s doing what we want him to do.”
Bichette is looking to follow the path outfielder Mason Williams did in 2015 if he keeps playing at this level. It’s understandable how a top draft pick can start off quickly and hit a wall, especially when your dad was a household name in a few major-legue locales.
There also is pressure. Such a pick is expected to perform. Such a player – and Bichette is not the first – matures between the ages of 18 and 23. The best advice, as Williams did in 2015, is to forget the adversity faced in psst years, re-dedicate yourself to the game and let it come to you.
So far, that is what Bichette has done in 2016. He’s focused and is contributing.
There are still matters to tighten up. Plate management is a developing process, but Bichette has been something of a bad-ball hitter so far this year. Mitchell has him batting fifth in the Thunder lineup, which suits him just fine.
With this encouraging start, Bichette could put himself back on track in the Yankees system, He now knows how much work it takes to be consistent.