Evolution of a Knight: The Didi Gregorius Story

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It has been a truly amazing journey for Didi Gregorius, from the Netherlands to playing shortstop for the most storied franchise in all of sports. After being discovered by a Reds scout in a U-18 tournament in 2006, Gregorius was signed by Cincinnati, but the road to success would not be an easy one. After being assigned to the Reds Gulf Coast League team, Didi did not impress, slashing a lowly .155/.241/.155, however after being moved to the Pioneer League he was able to hit at a .314 clip in 255 plate appearances. After battling through A-ball, Gregorius was promoted to the Carolina Mudcats of the Class AA Southern League where he hit a solid .289 with 7 home runs and 44 RBIs in 81 games. By 2012, Gregorius made it to the Reds AAA affiliate in Louisville, and after hitting .243 in 48 games, he finally got the call to the majors.

 

His major league stint with the Reds was short lived, however, as Gregorius only appeared in 8 games in September before being moved to the D-Backs in a 3 team trade. During his run with the Reds, he was twice rated the best defensive infielder in the Reds farm system by Baseball America and topped out as the #80 prospect before the 2012 season. Gregorius would end up staying in Arizona for 2 years, and in the first pitch of his first at-bat drilled a home run off of Phil Hughes. It would be a somewhat rocky road from there, however, as in 183 career games with the D-Backs Didi slashed .241/.314/.368 and put up a pretty average 0.9 dWar, not what was expected out of a player known mainly for his glove at the most important defensive position in baseball. After 2014, Didi was on the move again, this time to fill the biggest void in the MLB.

 

I don’t think the name Derek Jeter needs an explanation, especially when talking about the large impact Jeter had on the Yankees franchise and on the MLB as a whole. Someone had to fill the hole left in Jeter’s retirement, however, and during the 2014 offseason GM Brian Cashman acquired Gregorius by sending Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers, with the Tigers sending Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba to the Diamondbacks. In 2015, in his first season starting at shortstop, Gregorius hit .265 with 9 home runs in 155 games, driving in 56 runs. His dWAR did improve, jumping to a career high 1.5, good enough for 26th in the MLB, however a 1.8 oWAR needed improvement. The glove seemed to be there, but the absence of a solid bat would leave Yankees fans wondering if Cashman and the front office knew exactly what they were doing to fill the shortstop position.

 

During the 2015 offseason, Gregorius would not be discouraged, working on improving his game at the plate, especially against lefties, and working on his glove. It’s my opinion that his work to handle left handed pitching is what blossomed Gregorius into one of the center pieces of the Yankees franchise going forward. In 2015, Didi hit .247 against lefties, which almost called for some type of platoon at shortstop. However, in 2016 he improved to a truly astonishing .324 against lefties, and added power, hitting by far a career high of 20 home runs, adding 70 RBIs and improving his slashes to .276/.304/.447, with a huge jump especially in the slugging department. To put it in perspective, Derek Jeter’s career high in home runs was 24. Power is not exactly looked for at the shortstop position, but with a decent batting average it is an added bonus. Yankees fans began to rally around Didi in the 2016 season, a season in which Gregorius had career highs in hits (155), doubles (32), home runs (20), and RBIs (70). Perhaps the moment that summed it up for him was when Gregorius hit a walkoff two-run home run on June 29, 2016 to cap a six-run comeback in the Yankees' 9-7 victory over the Texas Rangers, who came into the game with the AL's best record at 51-27. His energy both on and off the field provided a huge boost for the Yankees, but he also would quickly become a veteran leader on a team filled with youth. The best just kept getting better for the now 27 year old shortstop, as in 2017 Gregorius put up a career season. He hit a career high .287 and blasted a Yankees shortstop single-season record 25 home runs, despite missing over 20 games due to injury. His power earned him the cleanup spot in the order, and hitting behind the big bats of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez certainly helps. In addition to his numbers on the surface, Sir Didi put up a solid 106 OPS+ and 3.6 oWAR. In the moments that mattered most, Didi came up huge. After going down 3-0 after the top of the first in the Wild Card game, Gregorius quickly tied the game with a monster 3 run blast that nearly blew the roof off of Yankee Stadium. In Game 5 in Cleveland during the ALDS, Didi muscled out a pair of homers to clinch a series win for the Yankees over the Indians, even with possible 2017 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber on the hill. Another amazing moment was seen as Gregorious was embraced by then manager Joe Girardi at the mound following the Game 5 win, a token of the former skipper’s gratitude for the player and leader Gregorius had become.

 

So what’s next for the Yankee shortstop? After a monster 2017 season, I think it’s safe to say Didi Gregorius is the future at the shortstop position for the Yankees for years to come. Whether it’s his post game tweets or lifting up Ronald Torreyes to high five Aaron Judge after a mammoth blast, Gregorius has found a place to stay in New York. Brian Cashman never lost faith in him, and neither did the clubhouse. The journey for Didi has been a long one, and certainly a hard one, but the fact is he has filled the shoes of the great Derek Jeter beautifully. The one flaw I see for Gregorius lies in his fielding, where his defensive metrics have slowly been progressing downwards. Although he only committed 9 errors a season ago, his range and arm strength can be seen as a problem, as well as a decrease in defensive WAR. Even so, there are plays he makes in the hole that seem nearly impossible to make that Didi does make, passing the eye test. However, just like he improved on hitting against lefties, Gregorius will continue to work on his craft in the field. Hitting behind the likes of Judge and Sanchez gives him even more opportunity to see good pitches, drive in runs, and impact the Yankees chances in a positive way. From the Netherlands to the United States, to actually being named a Dutch knight, Sir Didi Gregorius has found a home in New York, and Yankees nation could not be happier.

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