Yanks pick Bichette aims to play for 'Uncle Joe'
Son of former big league slugger has long known manager
NEW YORK -- Dante Bichette Jr. will have to find a new nickname for Joe Girardi.
"I still call him Uncle Joe," Bichette said. "I think I'm going to have to stop that, but that's how close we are right now. It's just a great thing that I might be able to play for him one day."
Bichette will have that chance after the Yankees selected him Monday with their first pick, 51st overall, in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
Girardi, the Yankees' manager, remains close friends with Bichette's father, Dante Bichette, from their playing careers. Bichette spent 14 years in the Majors with five different teams, and Girardi even named his own son Dante after his friend.
A shortstop and two-time All-Central Florida Player of the Year at Orangewood Christian High School, Bichette Jr. led his team with a .640 batting average, scoring 58 runs and connected for 14 doubles, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 30 games this past season, which ended in the Florida Class-2A state finals.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder has committed to the University of Georgia and would likely be the Bulldogs' starting third baseman if he went there. But on Tuesday, Bichette sounded like his sights were set on the pros.
"I am committed to go to Georgia," he said, "but hopefully I can pretty rapidly come to a conclusion with the Yankees, and I'd love to be able to start my professional career as soon as possible."
Bichette, who is being advised by Dan Evans, later added: "I'm going in, as I was hoping I'd be able to get on the field as soon as I can, so I think we'll be able to reach a conclusion pretty quickly and get out there."
As a 14-year-old, Bichette was ranked nationally in the top 100 in the 18-and-under division of the United States Tennis Association. He said he plays tennis now just to stay in shape, and may continue to do so to remain agile at third base, though he did not have any reservations about potentially moving to the outfield.
Bichette was also a closer at the prep level.
But it is the big league pedigree instilled by his father that gives Bichette a leg up over other high school players entering the next stages of their careers.
His father, an outfielder, played for the Angels, Brewers, Rockies, Reds and Red Sox from 1988-2001, batting .299 and hitting 274 home runs. He finished second in National League MVP voting in 1995 after batting .340 with 40 home runs and 128 RBIs.
"I think my dad definitely taught me from a young age to hit as a big leaguer would, to behave myself on the field as a big leaguer would and to have a strike zone, which is very important, as a big leaguer would," Bichette Jr. said.
He later added: "Honestly, I think hitting-wise I'm pretty much the same person. I'm going to hit for average and I'll throw in a few power numbers, hopefully. And we have our same strengths, our same weaknesses. It's kind of funny when we watch highlight clips -- it's the same thing going on. So hopefully I'll be able to learn from him, and some things that maybe he had mistakes with, he can help me out with and make me a better player that way."
The 18-year-old Bichette was at his house with his family and a few close friends Monday when his name was called, excited to be going to the team he desired to be a part of all along.
"It's the most prestigious club around," he said. "I think there's nothing better than being a Yankee. You grow up as a little kid dreaming of being a Yankee, of hitting a home run in Yankee Stadium. ... I was given the opportunity last night to prove myself and get up to the biggest level, so hopefully that happens."
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at noon ET Wednesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Day 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player.
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.