HIROSHIMA – After months of beating minor league pitching into submission, Xavier Batista was thrust into the limelight and rose to the occasion.
On Saturday, a day after the Carp signed him to a standard contract, the 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic rocked Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium with a two-run homer. The pinch-hit blast brought the Carp from behind in their interleague win against the Chiba Lotte Marines.
On Sunday, he repeated the feat with another two-run, pinch-hit jack that iced the series finale against the Marines. In so doing, Batista became the first foreign player to homer in his first two Nippon Professional Baseball at-bats.
“I’m really happy to be the first foreigner to do that,” said the right-handed-batting Batista, whose first homer carried out to right center, while Sunday’s was rocketed into the second deck in left field.
On Friday, the Carp announced a surprising deal with Batista, who had joined the team in March 2016 as a developmental player who doesn’t count against the club’s 70-man roster. The club tied him to a six-year contract reported at $47,000 (roughly ¥5.19 million) a year with a $100,000 signing bonus.
“(My parents) said they were happy and told me to try even harder,” Batista said of his telephone call back home after he was honored as Saturday’s hero of the game before the home fans.
“My family doesn’t have one, so I want to buy them a car with my signing bonus.”
Batista began his pro baseball career in the Chicago Cubs organization as a 17-year-old. But in five seasons, he never got beyond low “A” ball, where he batted .198 for Boise with four homers in 167 at-bats in 2012. But for a year and a half after his release by the Cubs, Batista was out of baseball.
“I had potential, so I wanted to give it another try,” he said of his decision to join Hiroshima’s Dominican Republic baseball academy.
That led him to visit Japan in the autumn of 2015, and he earned a contract for the following season. His first year in the Western League, however, was no big improvement on his production during his time with the Cubs. But after batting .243 last year with a .307 on-base percentage and a .419 slugging average, Batista turned things around this year.
In 39 games with the Carp farm club this spring, Batista torched Western League pitching. Although the WL has traditionally favored pitching and suppressed offense compared to the Eastern League, Batista is currently leading both leagues in batting average, home runs, RBIs and slugging average.
With six straight games coming up in Pacific League parks meaning the designated hitter will be available to the Carp, Batista is almost certain to get more opportunities to bat.
“This is a good chance for me and I want to show some good performances,” he said.
Although his salary may be low, if he continues to perform and remain on the first team, Batista may be able to nearly double his salary this season. NPB rules stipulate that active first-team players earn a minimum of ¥14.3 million — prorated according to roster time.
And if CL teams aren’t concerned yet by the thought of facing Batista for the next six years, they may soon have more to worry about on the Carp farm club in the form of 24-year-old first baseman Alejandro Mejia.
For two seasons, Mejia played in the Dominican summer league for the St. Louis Cardinals, before he found his way to Hiroshima last year. A high average hitter who leads both leagues in doubles, Mejia is — with Batista gone — easily Japan’s most productive minor league hitter.
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