An eighth round pick by the Mariners in 2010 out of Miami-Dade CC, Jabari Blash is oozing with raw physical abilities and athleticism. Tall (6-foot-4) and wiry strong (195 pounds), he battled through injuries to put up an All-Star season with the Everett Aquasox in 2011, ranking 2nd in the league in home runs (11), 6th in RBI (43) and 3rd in Total Bases (112) while leading the league in slugging percentage (.574).
The 22-year-old outfielder ranked 23rd on our Top-50 prospects recently took the time to talk with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about his background, his approach and his big league dreams.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, Jabari.
Jabari Blash: Absolutely, thank you for talking to me.
SC: In case some of them haven't seen you play, tell the readers what type of player Jabari Blash is on the baseball field.
JB: I'm a big hustler – I hustle on and off the field. I want to look like a baseball player and play hard. And I'm a baseball player that wants to win.
SC: Growing up in the Virgin Islands you only played two years of high school and even then not very many games but you originally went to Alcorn State. How did you get noticed enough to get a college to ask you to play for them? Did you play on any club teams or any special tournaments or anything for further exposure?
JB: There were a few showcases back home. The V.I. Future Stars of Baseball Organization, that's where I got noticed first. The summer before I transferred to Miami-Dade is when I started playing every day for the first time, in summer league down there, so 2007 is really when that started I think.
SC: Where do your love for the game and your abilities and athleticism come from – any ballplayers in your bloodlines?
JB: No ballplayers in my family. I think really most of my athleticism and my height and everything come from my mom; she's like 5-foot-11. My younger brother is 15-years old and 6-foot-3. So we definitely get that from my mom, because my dad is pretty short – like 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9.
SC: Alright, go mom. Take me through your ups and downs in 2011 – in Clinton, the demotion to Everett and then your All-Star performance in the Northwest League.
JB: Well, I took a lot of pitches in Clinton-—I'm not the type of guy that pitchers are going to pump in a lot of fastballs, obviously-—so I took a lot of pitches there. And, really, I don't think I was doing that poorly, I just wasn't getting a lot of hits—I was getting on base, though. In Everett, I made some adjustments in my swing and in my approach and I got more comfortable hitting off-speed pitches and learning to hit more than just the fastball. That helped me--learning the game a little bit more.
SC: I heard an interview you did with Dave Lezotte (Clinton LumberKings' radio broadcaster) early in the season during which you acknowledged that you were perhaps being too patient at the plate – maybe taking pitches for the sake of taking pitches. Was that something you worked on once you were in Everett?
JB: Not so much taking pitches just to take pitches, but looking for the fastball too much maybe. I made some adjustments and maybe even started to swing at some pitches that weren't strikes more often but I was learning to hit the off-speed pitches and being more aggressive so the strikeouts were maybe a little high because of that (in Everett).
SC: You spent a lot of time hitting cleanup for the AquaSox this season and you ended up leading the club in home runs, RBI and Total Bases while leading the Northwest League in Slugging Percentage – do you see yourself as the type of player that can be a power hitter down the road?
JB: Oh yeah. This is the first time in my career that I really feel like I'm beginning to become a true baseball player. This year, honestly, I don't even feel like was a good, productive year for me. I was hurt a lot in Everett and missed some games, I got into a groove for a while, but I feel like if I hadn't missed those games then I would have put up a lot better numbers. I think I'm really just starting to figure it out, you know? I'm still learning a lot about the game and learning different situations that a lot of other guys have already done but with my background I haven't fully developed. So this year was productive but I think I still can be a lot better player and a lot more productive as I continue to learn and grow and develop as a ballplayer.
SC: You're a pretty big guy, but you also run very well and played some center field this season. Are you more comfortable in center or in and outfield corner?
JB: I think I'm most comfortable in right field. I prefer center because I can be in charge and I'm pretty good out there, but I think I'm most comfortable in right, much more so than left.
SC: You certainly have the arm for right field.
SC: Have you been to Safeco Field at all – either as a fan or as a member of the organization for batting practice?
JB: I took batting practice there twice for two professional showcases and this season we (the AquaSox players) went to a couple of the games. At one of the games we got to go inside and see the clubhouses, the locker rooms and the batting cages and everything, it was really cool.
SC: In 2010 you were in Pulaski, Virginia when you made your professional baseball debut and this season, of course, you played primarily in Everett. Did being so close to the big league city give you any further motivation to perform?
JB: Definitely. Just seeing how different it is as a big leaguer—-life in general-—and seeing the way you can really take care of your family by doing something you love…it's a great opportunity. My teammate from last Spring Training was Kyle Seager, and he obviously got called up this year. Talking to him and seeing his face light up while he explained to me how it is in the big leagues was just unbelievable. It's like living a dream, you know? So, of course, seeing that makes you want to work harder and make it to that level.
SC: What is your primary source of day-to-day motivation as a ballplayer?
JB: Seeing that when we were down there (at Safeco), that is a huge motivation. Seeing and hearing how great it is to be a big league ballplayer and like everyone says, it's 10 times better than you can imagine. So that is motivating and makes you feel like, "why am I not there yet?", so you just keep working harder.
SC: On that note, how old were you when you fell in love with playing baseball and what age were you when you thought that a career in baseball was a real possibility?
JB: Senior year of High School. The whole idea of playing at first was just to get a way to get into and get through college. Then I went to a few showcases in Florida-—Perfect Game in Jupiter—-and a few colleges called, but also a few pro teams called and that was when I was like, "wow, this can maybe be my career."
SC: Are you the type of player that sets specific goals for yourself for the 2011 season, and if so, how did you do on those goals?
JB: Oh yeah, without goals it's hard for you to achieve anything. You need to have something to shoot for. Some of those I did great at but some I wish I'd done better.
SC: And what is your focus for this offseason, what do you want to get better at?
JB: This offseason I want to put on more muscle. Get stronger--not really get bigger, just more muscular. I want to work on getting better jumps on the ball (in the outfield) and being a little more accurate with my throws to the bases from the outfield. And then my base running; I'm a pretty fast runner, but knowing when to run a little better and things like that.
SC: A return to Clinton to open 2012 seems likely given your 2011 performance. How will you be better equipped to handle the Midwest League a second time around?
JB: Like I was saying, when I was there before I wasn't hitting great—-I think I was hitting like.218 (exactly)—-but I wasn't doing horribly. I was getting pitched around a lot. The zone was even big there, but I was getting pitched around. And the weather there, sometimes the ball just didn't carry that well, even when I thought I'd hit a good line drive. But with the changes I made in Everett and the work I did with the coaches, I think that I would definitely do better if I'm back in that league again. I was swinging at more pitches and putting more balls in play hard (in Everett), so I think that I would do better.
SC: Who do you consider your biggest influences on your baseball career?
JB: I'd have to say Darren Canton down in the Virgin Islands is my biggest inspiration, the guy who ran those clinics. Honestly, I wasn't that interested in baseball at first, but he worked hard to get me motivated and to keep me out of trouble. He always wanted me practicing and I was like, "this guy wants me to come out here and run around in the hot sun and I'm not getting paid," and I was thinking, "Why would I want to do this, run around and throw the ball around?" But he convinced me that I could turn this into something and possibly get a career in the big leagues out of that. And look where I am now.
SC: Well on your way, I'd say.
SC: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Jabari. Continued success to you in the coming seasons.
JB: Thanks so much.
Want to hear more from Jabari? You can follow him on Twitter @JabariBlash. You can also follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall @randallball for more Mariners news and thoughts.