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MailTribune.com
  • BASEBALL

    Rogues gotta lotta in Kata

    Fun-loving Medford infielder among WCL hitting leaders to go with sure-handed play on defense
  • However this summer collegiate baseball season plays out, one thing is sure: Yuto Kata is going to have fun.
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    • YUTO KATA
      WHO: A 5-foot-8, 165-pound infielder for the Medford Rogues.
      • WHAT: The Dixie State product entered Tuesday's game ranked second in the West Coast League with a .583 batting average and h...
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      YUTO KATA
      WHO: A 5-foot-8, 165-pound infielder for the Medford Rogues.

      • WHAT: The Dixie State product entered Tuesday's game ranked second in the West Coast League with a .583 batting average and has been a stabilizing force at second base and shortstop for the Rogues.
      • up next: Tonight, 6:35, Bend Elks at Medford Rogues.
  • However this summer collegiate baseball season plays out, one thing is sure: Yuto Kata is going to have fun.
    Spend any time around the 21-year-old middle infielder and you'll realize that there really is no other way for the personable product from Dixie State University in Utah.
    "Anything about baseball is fun for me," says Kata. "To just be on the field is fun. Taking (batting practice), taking groundballs, everything's just fun. I want to get to the next level, of course, but if not this could be my last year so I've just got to have as much fun as I can."
    In his second season competing in the West Coast League, Kata certainly has had plenty to smile about as a member of the Medford Rogues. The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder entered Tuesday's game against the Bend Elks ranked second in the WCL with a .583 batting average, and has been a stabilizing force at second base and shortstop thus far.
    "Hitting is just depending on how hot you are, and I guess I'm hot and getting lucky hits," Kata says in downplaying his start. "I'm just trying to do whatever works to try and get on base and do the best for the team. If the hitting comes around, that's great for me, I guess."
    As a junior third baseman for Dixie State, Kata was a repeat honoree on the all-Pacific West Conference team by gaining third-team recognition after hitting .315 with 37 runs and 22 RBIs. He credits a late-spring surge with allowing him to get off to a good start this summer.
    "Ending the season in college, I started getting hotter and hotter and I was just trying to keep that going," he says. "I was afraid that week and a half break was going to stop it but I've kept it going so that's a good sign. Hopefully I can keep this up."
    Medford Rogues manager Josh Hogan says the team didn't have any grand vision of Kata leading the league in hitting when it pursued the former Kitsap BlueJackets player. The Rogues were in need of defensive help in the infield and Kata seemed a perfect fit for the style of player Hogan likes to employ in the lineup.
    "We brought him in for his defensive glove and we knew he would be a scrappy, bunt guy," says Hogan, "but I didn't expect all those great tools that he has. He swings it from both sides and bunts great from both sides. It's a huge bonus when we're writing a lineup, you just put 'Kata' up there in the one- or two-hole and there we go."
    "If he sticks with this process, who knows," the second-year Rogues manager adds of Kata's potential for a WCL batting title. "But it's been a delight to watch him play. He fits our style. He's a scrapper, he's a grinder and he does all the little things right, which is what we love."
    Hogan says the key thus far for Kata has been an understanding of what he does well and an unflinching desire to not waver from that process.
    "He's just done a really good job of staying short to the baseball and not really trying to do too much with it," says Hogan. "He's not trying to get long or big with his swing trying to hit home runs. He'll have two really good at-bats and he sticks with that same process, he doesn't just go, 'OK, now I'll just let it fly and try and hit a home run.' He sticks with his same process and knows what player he is and that's been a big benefactor to the success he's had in the early part of the season."
    Kata came to the United States as a foreign exchange student from Chiba, Japan, when he was 14. A lifelong baseball player, he immediately found a home on the diamond for Juan Diego Catholic High School near Salt Lake City and was a first-team all-state second baseman for the three-time champions.
    "Baseball and the friends I made were the ones that really kept me going and not miss home so much," he insists.
    The affable infielder says he's used to traveling and adapting to new environments, making it that much easier this summer as he transitions from playing in Washington to Medford. He hit .245 last summer in 48 games for the BlueJackets, and his only knowledge of the southern Oregon area was tainted by the lingering smoke from early August fires in the Rogue Valley.
    "I just remember there was smoke everywhere last year when I came down here and you couldn't see the outfield," he says with a laugh.
    Surrounded by blue skies and sunshine thus far this summer, Kata has already altered his impression of the Rogue Valley.
    "I love it here," he says. "Playing against Medford last year, I knew coming in Medford was a really good team so I was excited about being part of that. It's all been great ever since I came down. My host parents are great and everyone else around has just been awesome and really nice to us."
    While much has been made of his hitting thus far, Kata says he takes the most pride in his play on defense. A natural second baseman, he was moved to third base at Dixie State in order to get him on the field and subsequently moved from second to shortstop by Hogan prior to Monday's four-game series against Bend.
    "I'm an infielder, I can play any position," insists Kata. "Second base would probably be my best position but shortstop is just a little longer throw and it's nothing different. As an infielder I should be able to do that so it's no excuse."
    He sported a .963 fielding percentage this past season at Dixie State, with 114 assists against only six errors.
    "That's something I can be consistent with," says Kata, an accounting major who expects to graduate next year. "Hitting comes around and sometimes you struggle, it just happens with every player. I just control what I can, which is defense. That's something I've always loved and that's what I came here for."
    Having fun and winning a WCL title also stand high on Kata's wish list for the summer.
    "I want us to be a really fun team," he says. "Of course I want to win and winning is part of the fun, but before that this is baseball, you've gotta have fun. I want the fans to come out and watch us and be excited for us and just have fun."
    Those watching Kata play the game he loves undoubtedly will be able to do just that.
    "He has a great attitude," says Hogan. "He fits perfectly with our 'positive, present, process' mentality that we have. He doesn't ever get too down on himself and he's not a prideful player at all, he's just a great teammate. Really what more could you ask for out of a player or a Rogue?"
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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