NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Yankees manager Joe Girardi got to know Dante Bichette Jr. long before New York selected him with its first pick in the baseball draft.
“There were times that we were on the road – when we were in Chicago – we’d all stay at our house and little Dante sometimes had a hard time going to sleep at night and we’d get in the car and drive him around,” Girardi said of his late-night lullaby rides with Colorado Rockies teammate Dante Bichette.
“And to think this is the kid we drafted, the kid that I was trying to get to sleep in the car seat.”
Now, Girardi could get a chance to guide the slugging 18-year-old as a budding big league ballplayer.
The Yankees took Bichette Jr., a third baseman like his dad, out of Orangewood Christian High School in Maitland, Fla., with the 51st pick Monday night. The Yankees lost their first-round pick to Tampa Bay as compensation for signing reliever Rafael Soriano.
“I still call him Uncle Joe,” Bichette Jr. said on a conference call Tuesday, adding he “might have to stop that.”
“But that’s how close we are right now,” he added. “It’s just a great thing that I might be able to play for him one day.”
The Yankees would be ecstatic if little Dante turned out to be as successful as his dad. The older Bichette was a four-time All-Star with 274 career homers in 14 major league seasons.
The younger Bichette said he plays a lot like his dad, with the same strengths and weaknesses. He said his dad really helps with the baseball side of things.
“There’s no greater tool than my dad,” Bichette Jr. said.
Bichette Jr. has committed to the University of Georgia, but hopes to sign quickly with the Yankees. That would be just fine with Girardi, who played with the Bichette Jr.’s dad from 1993-95 for the expansion Rockies.
Girardi said he and Bichette became fast friends despite their differences in personality – the families are so close Girardi named his son Dante.
“He was more of a free spirit and everyone knows how I am,” Girardi said with a laugh. “But for whatever reason I found it really enjoyable to be around him. We would work out together and there were things we would do together. Little Dante was born basically that first season and he was a wonderful little kid.”
Bichette Jr. plans on working hard to stay a third baseman, but with Alex Rodriguez signed through 2017, the youngster said playing the outfield is a possibility, too.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Bichette Jr. batted .640 with 10 homers, 40 RBIs and 58 runs in 30 games as a senior this year. He was ranked by Baseball America as the 15th-best high school player in Florida.
“Dante is one of the guys in this draft we thought had an impact bat and the potential to hit for big power in the middle of the order,” said Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees vice president of amateur scouting. “He’s someone with an advanced makeup and work ethic who possesses the desire and drive to be a special major leaguer.”
“Before the draft I was excited and I knew that’s where I wanted to go: New York,” said Bichette. “I was in my house with my family and friends. As soon as it happened we were all crazy. We were just hoping it was going to be the Yankees. It’ll probably go down as one of the best moments of my life so far.”
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)