The New York Yankees selected Dante Bichette Jr. in the first round of the 2011 MLB June amateur draft. He was the 18-year old son of a four-time Major League All-Star. There was a lot of pressure for the young man to succeed.
Last year, Bichette, now 24, helped lead the Trenton Thunder to the playoffs. After the season, he teamed with his brother, Bo, for the first time as they played for Team Brazil in the World Baseball Classic qualifying rounds.
I spoke with him recently to discuss this and other topics as he prepares for what should be a very exciting year. I could hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he spoke.
Why don’t we start off by introducing yourself to the fans?
“I’m Dante Bichette Jr. I play third base and first base for the New York Yankees system. I played last year in Trenton, New Jersey and I am trying to make it to the Bronx.”
If you were scouting yourself, what are your best assets?
“I would say the first thing that anybody notices is my bat. I am a power hitter. That is the number one thing that we have always worked on since I was little with my pops and my little brother is hitting baseballs. Other than that, I take pride in my defense as well. And, I have been working on adding an extra step so that I am not the slowest guy on the field.”
The end of last year, you finished very strong, leading the Thunder into the playoffs. You didn’t go all the way, but you did do very well in the playoffs. Was there anything in particular that [Manager] Bobby Mitchell and [Hitting Coach] PJ Pilittere were working with you to have the success that you had?
“I’ve been with PJ for parts of 3 or 4 years now. He’s one of my favorite guys that I have met in the organization. Honestly, it isn’t anything that they did except for believing in me, and Bobby kept giving me opportunities to play. PJ, I’m sure, had something to do with that. Right around the halfway part of the season, things just really started to click, and I was figuring out the kind of hitter that I was and I put things together, and it started to show up numbers-wise too.”
So, the familiarity of PJ really helped?
“Yes. I have had him at Charleston, Tampa, and Trenton, so we have spent a lot of time together and honestly having Bobby there, it’s felt like I have had him for years also. I really like him as a manager.”
This past fall you had the opportunity to play for the Brazilian National Team with your brother Bo [Blue Jays Prospect]. What was that experience like?
“That was awesome! First, it was the first time that me and Bo have been able to play together which was awesome for me, and I think for him as well. We had a blast there we both said that we wish the team could go on and play year-round. It was just so much fun. The passion that they play with for their country is just amazing.”
You said that you’d like to play more often with that team. Is that something that you can do or is this just an every 3 to 4-year event?
“It’s going to be just for the WBC qualifier, but me and my brother are already talking about trying to plan a trip down to Brazil to see some of the guys and work with them, especially some of the up and coming baseball players in the country.”
Your grandparents came up from Brazil to watch you play in Brooklyn (WBC qualifier). Is that the first time they got to see you play?”
No, they’ve been back and forth ever since I can remember, so I grew up with them watching me play since I was like six years old. They are my biggest fans, as well as my brother’s. I think that seeing us with a Brazilian uniform on, fighting for that country out on the field is probably their favorite time watching us play.”
How would you rate playing for the Brazilian team amongst your favorite experiences, including playing in the Little League World Series?
“So far in my career, I have played in a lot of different levels, including Little League and right behind my first two big league spring at-bats is playing for Team Brazil in my favorite moments ever so I can’t even wait for the next Classic.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you had a very good run at the classic. I believe you had a .400 batting average, .700 slugging, and over 1.200 OPS (1.238).
“Yeah, I hit pretty well. I was coming off of my end of the year at Trenton, which I hit well at right into there. When you play in tournament style, which the classic is, you have to either bring it or you don’t. In those types of situations, I tend to bring it, and I did then as well.”
So, based on how you finished last season, are you going to be heading to Tampa more confident and relaxed than in previous years?”
“Absolutely. Finishing this year was the most confident and sure of myself that I have ever left a season ever and I have been the MVP of the league before (2011 Gulf Coast League). This year was awesome for me, I really feel like I found out what it’s going to take to be the best I can be and for me to be a big leaguer.”
This past season, several players you have played with have advanced all the way to the Bronx. How do you see yourself fitting into the Yankees’ current youth movement?
“I’d like to think that I can place myself right in the middle of it. The way things are going right now, it’s a great time to be a Yankee and a great time to be in their farm system especially if you are young and have talent. I would like to think that if I go out there and pick up right where I left off, they would want me in their plans too. Right now, I’m just happy for my buddies that got up there and happy that they are doing so well and making a road for us.”
You said that you are both a first baseman and third baseman. A) do you have a preference and B) explain a little bit the differences of how you prepare for each position.
“Preparation-wise it’s very similar. I just get to where my hands and feet are comfortable before the game, and I just roll into the game from there. I was blessed with good instincts for defense from the start. I used to think that third base was more valuable until I went over to first and was picking the ball and saving a lot of errors and runs from that side. They are both a lot of fun for me. And I played some left field in the WBC, and I can do that pretty well.”
Fast Forward to September, what do you envision for yourself?
“This is my seventh year now and this year I have real big goals for myself, especially after the way that I finished and the way that I feel coming into the offseason. I want to just really bounce off of that and keep it going. I would really love to wind up in the big leagues. That’s really everybody’s goal. I really see the light at the end of the tunnel right now, so I am going to feed off of that and trust God with what he has in store for me.”
It really isn’t a far stretch to see you make the leap from Double-A to the Majors
“I want to be up there, doing what my buddies are doing, helping out the big-league club before the season is over for sure. I want to help finish what they started this year. Bottom line, if you can hit, they are going to find a way to get you into the lineup.”