Gosuke Katoh has had his ups and downs during the first four seasons of professional baseball in the New York Yankees minor league system. He’s battled through being demoted and finished 2016 with the Charleston RiverDogs.
Katoh had played high school baseball at Rancho Bernardo in San Diego where excelled playing second base and batting at a .429 clip his senior season. Katoh decided at that point in time to stay close to home accepting a scholarship to play baseball at UCLA.
While watching the 2013 baseball draft, Katoh was watching to see where his friends were being taken in the draft. Much to his surprise, he heard his own named called by the Yankees in the second round. “It completely just surprised me. I was watching TV, the draft, pretty much just as a fan because I played with most of those guys who went in the first round. I was just texting them like, ‘Hey man, congratulations.’ Little did I know I was going to get drafted on TV, so it was exciting and I was really surprised,” Katoh said.
Katoh was faced with an unexpected dilemma. “It was a really tough decision my senior year because when I committed to UCLA, I pretty much knew 100% that I was going to go there and play baseball for them and that was my dream school because my mom went there and my dad went there. I always grew up as a Bruin fan and being from southern California, they’re always a good baseball school and always have good athletics and good education. It was really tough to turn down, but when the Yankees called I was really excited to open up a new chapter in my life and to get my professional baseball career started,” Katoh said of his choice to accept the Yankees offer.
Katoh was sent to the Gulf Coast League soon after signing and soon showed why the Yankees had taken a chance on him in the second round. He hit .310 while posting an on base percentage of .402 in 50 games. “I think it was because it was pretty much just an extension of my high school season. I finished high school, won our state championship and then basically again next week I was playing baseball again in Florida. That was a pretty easy transition on the field. We were playing day games, so I was really used to that.”
Katoh had to adjust to living across the country and was on his own for the first time in his life. “The off the field stuff was the hardest for me because it was my first time away from home for a very long period of time. You know having to take care of my body by myself and living on my own was pretty tough.”
The Yankees were impressed with his 2013 season and assigned him to the full season single-A Charleston RiverDogs for 2014. His numbers at the plate declined though as he hit .222, although he was still getting on base with a relatively good .345 on base percentage.
The next season, the Yankees assigned him to Charleston again where he started off the season. Katoh was then faced with his first setback when he was sent to extended spring training and then down a level to the Pulaski Yankees shortly into the 2015 season. “It was really tough to go down because it was my first time ever experiencing failure really. Through high school, I’ve always succeeded for the most part and to fail was kind of tough but I really learned a lot on the mental side of baseball and a lot of the coaches here helped me out. The hitting coach has helped me out and all the staff in Tampa really helped me out with my mental game. I went to Tampa for extended for a little bit and really worked on my swing with the hitting instructor, James Rowson,” Katoh said.
Katoh then turned his season around at Pulaski where he hit .287, getting on base at a .426 clip to help spark the P-Yanks to the playoffs. “When I went to Pulaski, I only had positive thoughts. We had a really great group of guys there. I loved the team there, I love the team chemistry there. We ended up winning a lot of games and making the playoffs. It was a really positive season.”
Katoh started off 2016 in extended spring training before getting re-assigned to Charleston on May 23. In his first game back, he felt something he never had before while playing baseball. “It was awesome because I was basically shaking at the plate because I was so nervous. I’ve never really been that nervous on the baseball field,” he said. Nobody in the stands could tell as Katoh homered in his first at-bat of the season. He ended up going 3-5, scoring two runs while driving in one in a 10-2 RiverDogs win over West Virginia. “To be able to get that first at-bat, first knock, first home run out of the way was a huge relief because after that I felt like all the pressure was off and I was really able to have some fun on the field,” Katoh said
While at the plate, Katoh has a reputation for being patient but he’s trying to take a more assertive approach at the plate. “At the plate, I like to be really aggressive. I swing at a lot of first pitches when I’m feeling really good. I like to grind out at-bats. I feel like I’ll never really be that three or four guy that drives in runs in the gaps or hit home runs, so I like to really just grind out at-bats and help the team win by getting on base and stealing some bags.” Katoh described.
Defensively, Katoh plays second base, but did play third base this season for the first time in his professional career. Playing third gave him more perspective while at the plate. “I never knew how hard it was to field a bunt from third base until I actually did it. You know hitting wise and obviously from the second base side, the more you know about every position in the game, the more you’ll succeed. It was good to know about the bunt stuff from the third base side too,” Katoh said.
As far as his normal position, Katoh has good hands and range at second base, but he still has areas of his game he’s looking to improve. “Basically everything in general. The main focus is footwork and arm strength. I can always improve on hands and range. If I compare myself to the big league, major league all-star, I’m nowhere close to there. There’s a lot of work to do, I have a lot of work to do,” Katoh said.
Katoh is still young and will be 22 years old when the 2017 season starts. His numbers at the plate weren’t fantastic (.229 BA 1 HR 9 RBI in 65 games) but he knows what he has to do to get better and become the player the Yankees think he can be. His focus is to keep gaining strength, both mentally and physically. “In 2017, I expect myself to be a better person and a better player. Be stronger mentally. I feel like every year I’ve been getting a lot stronger mentally. Making good steps forward after a bad game. I expect a huge year out of me every year. I’m going to work really hard in the gym and during the off-season and that should pay off.”