When the Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius this offseason, not many knew what to expect. After further research, we grew to understand that he would likely, and hopefully, be a defensive juggernaut while only minimally producing at the plate. Then when the season began Yankees fans began to worry. Gregorius struggled more so than expected at the plate, and surprisingly, he made multiple mistakes in the field. But now with a full month of Yankees starting shortstop duty under his belt, Gregorius seems to be showing some subtle signs of maturation.
Out of the gate in the field Gregorius simply made rookie mistakes. Throwing to the wrong base, charging when he had time, staying back when he didn’t. They were tiny but frustrating mistakes for a player pegged to be a defensive vacuum. By his 16th game with the Yankees, Gregorius had already committed three errors. But, there was a saving grace in the Yankees clubhouse, and his name was Alex Rodriguez.
Yes, Rodriguez, who holds two decades of experience on the left side of the infield, was enlisted to help the struggling Gregorius. The two worked together fielding ground balls and slinging throws across the diamond. "The one thing about playing shortstop that I tried to convey to him was positioning, cadence and also that internal clock that a shortstop needs," Rodriguez said on what lessons he gave to Gregorius. So far, the lesson seems to be sticking. On a play Sunday night in Boston, the speedy Mookie Betts grounded a slow bouncer to short. Rather than charging and forcing an awkward throw, Gregorius stayed back on the ball until its final hop, then stepped into the grounder, sending his momentum towards first base for the throw. He got Betts on the throw and did enough to impress the always-pleasant John Kruk on the broadcast. This patience and possibly improved internal clock has been enough to show some subtle signs of maturity in his mindset and improvements on the diamond.
At the plate, Gregorius has also showed this maturation. His two-strike approach has drastically improved, giving him signs of life in the batter’s box. In Little League we were all taught to choke up on the bat with two-strikes on us. But how often in MLB do you see a batter do that (excluding the Joey Votto outlier)? Probably not that often, which is understandable—they’re professional baseball players, not Little Leaguers. However, when you’re struggling, it sometimes go back to the basics. Gregorius now is choking up on the bat with two-strikes, getting the bat through the zone quicker.
I specify that his approach is improved, because the results are only minimally present. The Yankees team triple slash is .246/.322/.417 (struggling to stay afloat with Stephen Drew and Carlos Beltran factored in). But, Gregorius’ .217/.275/.241 isn’t helping either, as he is in the lower third of the team’s batting average. But, in two-strike counts the Yankees are batting .167/.241/.263 as a team and Gregorius himself is batting .174/.224/.196. If I’m doing the math right, that is .007 above the team’s average, albeit with no power. Gregorius is also batting .300 in 0-2 counts, while the team as a whole bats .121. Again, that is no miraculous feat by any means, and is a small sample size only a month into the season. But it can be considered a good sign, and something to continue to look at.
Gregorius certainly hasn’t figured it all out. It doesn’t look like some magical switch clicked on in his head, giving him the knowledge of Pete Rose. It does look like Gregorius is trying to become a better player though. He is obviously a hardworking guy and wants to be the best that he can. With these new, younger Yankees us fans must learn to celebrate the mini victories along the way. This seems to be one for Gregorius and the Yankees. Here’s to that always-amazing Didi defense, and maybe even some good at bats as well.