Coming up as a Latin American outfielder through the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Jose Guillen drew automatic comparisons to Roberto Clemente, for both his rifle outfield arm and promising power. In 1997, Guillen was made the starting rightfielder for the Bucs at the tender age of 20, making the leap from Single-A up to the majors in one year.
Over the next two seasons, Guillen compiled a .267 average with 28 dingers and 154 ribbies. However, as much as he was praised for his big-league talent and abilities to make a jaw-dropping throw, the youngster was chided for his immaturity both on and off the field. In February 1999, Guillen was refused entrance to the States for not providing proper documentation at the U.S. Immigration facility in the Dominican Republic. He finally did make it to Florida for spring training, but only after Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum made a few well-placed phone calls and acquired Guillen a visa.
The Pirates front office was more than peeved, and decided that the youngster needed a little more seasoning and humility before he took another shot at the bigs. He was demoted to Triple-A Nashville, to the surprise of many, especially himself. In defense of the transaction, Pittsburgh GM Cam Bonifay was quoted as saying, “There comes a time when people have to grow up. Maybe this will wake him up.”
In the minors, Guillen did little to make the organization believe that he was maturing. He continuously groused and lazed about, complaining that he should be in “the show.” Despite a mid-season call-up, Guillen soon became trade bait. When catcher Jason Kendall got injured in July 1999, the Bucs traded the outfielder along with pitcher Jeff Sparks to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for veteran backstop Joe Oliver and catching prospect Humberto Cota.
Instead of starting the next season with the major-league squad, Guillen was demoted to AAA Durham in April 2000, with Greg Vaughn, Gerald Williams, and a platoon of Bubba Trammell and Dave Martinez firmly entrenched in Tampa’s outfield. Tampa Bay promoted him to the majors a third of the way through the season, but his output was not overly impressive, as he batted .253 with 10 taters and 41 RBIs over 105 games.