Didi experiment proves successful in year one

We all know how the saying goes, out with the old and in with the new. After Derek Jeter’s retirement following the 2014 season, the Yankees had a glaring hole at shortstop. Yankees GM Brian Cashman made a surprising deal acquiring the young, unproven Didi Gregorius for another young, unproven arm in Shane Greene in a three-way deal with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. From the beginning, I saw this as an experiment for the Yankees. Didi had to play his way into pinstripes, and although his first year wasn’t perfect, Didi has earned another season with the club.
Photo Credit: Kathy Willens | AP

There was something about Gregorius that made him likeable from the start. Perhaps it was because he was an exciting young player, or that he was a soft spoken and humble guy. No matter the reason, we had a soft spot for him. He was always cautioning Yankee fans to not make comparisons between him and Jeter, and that he wasn’t replacing Jeter, he was succeeding him.

Gregorius’ first month with the Yankees could not have gone any worse. Along with the unrealistic and unfair expectations, Didi played very poor in April. Gregorius hit to a slash line of .206/.261/.238 with only four RBI. He also made three errors in 19 games. And we all remember his base running blunder on Opening Day as he was thrown out trying to steal third ending the inning with Mark Teixeira (the tying run) on deck. Gregorius was pressing, trying to do too much, and he was trying to fill Derek Jeter’s shoes, although he wouldn’t ever admit it.

In May, as the days got warmer, so did Didi. Didi began showing his athleticism and range as a fielder as he cut down on errors and flashed his strong arm as a shortstop. He also started to hit the ball better, although drastic improvements didn’t come until June where he hit .258 including a .286 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

Following the All-Star break, Didi hit .317 and .310 in July and August, respectfully. Gregorius was a different ball player who found himself hitting as high as second in the batting order in a few games.

Despite the success he’s enjoyed, my one criticism of Gregorius is that he has absolutely no clutch gene. Didi hit just .167 with runners in scoring position with two outs. Essentially, if he came up with ducks on the pond and two outs, we had no confidence in him to come through, and the inning might as well have been over. His failure to come through with big hits in his first year in New York can be attributed to him adjusting to the pressures of playing in a big market. As Yankee fans, we can only hope that as he improved from the first half to the second half of 2015, he can improve from his first year with the Yankees to his second year with the Yankees.

So, when Didi was acquired last winter, I had mentioned that it was an experiment; perhaps, it was even a one year experiment. The Yankees would hope for some development out of Didi and if it didn’t work out, the Yankees could go after Ian Desmond, Asdrubal Cabrera, or Alexi Ramirez. But Gregorius played well enough to earn another year with the team and I look for him to continue developing.

The fact of the matter is, Didi Gregorius is no superstar. He is a guy that you know what you’re going to get: a guy who doesn’t hit consistently but will show athleticism and be a plus fielding shortstop. With Yankees top prospect Jorge Mateo presumably taking the reins in 2018 or 2019, Gregorius will be a Yankee next year and into the next few seasons. If develops into a .280 hitter with 20 homers and continues being a gold glove candidate, maybe the Yankees hold onto him and move Mateo to either second or third base.

Regardless, you root for Didi; he’s a likeable player. Seeing his development as a Yankee fan was sweet and it’s something that we should all look to continue in the coming seasons.

Article by: Chad Raines
Follow me on twitter @Chad_Rain
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