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Former Rattler Heating Up Minors

Copyright 2004 Chattanooga Publishing Company

Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

April 18, 2004 Sunday

Gutierrez Making Noise In Chatanooga

By David Paschall; Staff Writer, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chattanooga Lookouts first baseman Jesse Gutierrez is a man of few words and many hits.

Gutierrez is admittedly shy with people but bold with a bat, having hit safely in Chattanooga’s first seven games this season. Entering Friday night’s series opener at Greenville, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder had a .370 batting average, a Southern League-leading 10 RBIs and the Lookouts’ only home run.

“Jesse is very quiet and very simple,” said Grant Griesser, the Cincinnati Reds assistant director of player development. “He has a professional approach at the plate that works for him. Even when he’s out, he’s hitting the ball hard somewhere.

“He can’t run particularly well and he’s not a great defender, but he can flat-out swing the stick.”

Selected by the Reds in the 20th round of the 2001 draft, Gutierrez is showing he can hit at every step up the developmental ladder. He hit .294 in 72 rookie games in 2001 and .273 in 123 games at Single-A Dayton in 2002.

Last year, Gutierrez hit .278 in 108 games at high-Single-A Potomac before playing the final 27 games with Chattanooga. His 96 combined RBIs with the Cannons and Lookouts led all Reds minor leaguers.

Gutierrez hasn’t established any number goals for this season, other than his number one goal of staying consistent.

“I’m just trying to make good contact and get good, solid at-bats,” Gutierrez said. “I want to out-battle every pitcher I face, and I want to be as consistent as I can driving the ball.

“You’ve got to notice your strike zone and shape your strike zone, knowing sometimes you will have good days and sometimes you will have bad days.”

Born and raised in McAllen, Texas, Gutierrez started playing baseball at the age of 5. He was a catcher in high school and at Texas Southmost Junior College but began mixing in some first base at Texas-Pan American and St. Mary’s University.

Gutierrez was catching and playing first as recently as last season, but new Lookouts manager Jayhawk Owens said it was time for that to change. Owens, a former catcher, managed Gutierrez last season in Potomac.

“Right now, he understands that he is the first baseman of the Lookouts,” Owens said. “He can concentrate more on hitting, because catching takes a lot out of hitting. He is a patient hitter who not only puts a good pitch into play but puts it into play with authority.

“He is quiet, but I’ve seen him jump on a player if the guy is not hustling. When he does talk, people listen.”

That Gutierrez can play catcher in a pinch is a plus to the organization, Griesser said, as is his continued effectiveness at the plate. Gutierrez hit only .215 in his short time with the Lookouts last season but appears far more adjusted to Double-A pitching this spring.

“Jesse is a guy who makes easy adjustments,” Griesser said. “You talk to some of our hitting instructors, and they think Jesse could hit in the big leagues now.”

E-mail David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com