Yankees Didi Gregorius and the prospect of the prospects

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 20: Didi Gregorius
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 20: Didi Gregorius /

With the trades of Chase Headley and Starlin Castro this offseason, the Yankees continued the revolution that is getting younger, hungrier and more exciting than previous incarnations.

The acquisition of home run king and NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton has catapulted the 2018 Yankees into the stratosphere of expectations.

Throughout the offseason, general manager Brian Cashman has indicated to the media that he has the confidence to start two prospects in the infield, whom Yankee fans are very familiar with, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.

Much of the offseason speculation has been rampant that Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Travis Shaw of the Brewers,  Joe Panik of the Giants and free-agent Mike Moustakas would all be good candidates to fill the infield vacancies, should the Yankees decide to go with a more veteran presence.

One player literally at the center of things, but somehow forgotten in all the press about the Yankees’ infield, its prospects and its options for 2018, is Didi Gregorius.

Gregorius was re-signed to an $8.25 million contract recently to avoid arbitration, which may have been one of the most important moves of the winter for the Yanks, as it provides a solidifying force up the middle.

Whoever wins the battle for second base and third base in Spring Training — Gregorius, we assume, will be there bringing an elite performance both on offense and defense.

Does Gregorius, at 27, hear the footsteps of the prospects who are fast on his heels? The speculation and rumor have also suggested moves that involve Gregorius taking over third base.

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The Yankees have a plethora of young infielders, and some of them are waiting for an opportunity to play, including Torres (21), who came up as a shortstop and Thairo Estrada (21), who spent 2017 at Double-A Trenton and who recently had a successful Arizona  Fall League stint.

On the strength of what was a career campaign for Gregorius in ’17, Yankees fans would revolt if Gregorius were moved to a new position to accommodate one of these prospects or to accommodate a trade acquisition.

Gregorius posted personal-best marks in ’17 in batting average (.287), home runs (25) and RBI (87) — along with a 107 wRC+ which was a career high as well.

There has been constant improvement by Gregorius in New York — his batting average, home runs an RBI has gone up every year since joining the club in 2015.

On June 10, Gregorius collected his 500th major league hit and then on June 21, he hit the 50th home run of his career. Gregorius ranked third on the Yankees in home runs and

Gregorius ranked third on the Yankees in home runs and RBIs despite missing nearly a month of the ’17 season. He eclipsed Derek Jeter’s franchise record of 24 home runs for a shortstop on September 20.

In the Postseason, Gregorius hit three home runs with RBI over 13 games. Two of those homers came in Game 5 of the American League Division Series off of Corey Kluber.

Yankees management probably never envisioned Gregorius filling Jeter’s shoes over the last three seasons. Todd Frazier praised the Yankee shortstop back in September to New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner:

"“He’s one of the best shortstops in the league. He’s underrated…He doesn’t look for accolades, he doesn’t look for praise.  All he wants to do is win.”"

As with his self-effacing post-game emojis, which only praise the efforts of his teammates, never his own, Gregorius’ play speaks for itself. He’s lifting line drives out of the ballpark at a record rate. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs.com points out that

"“Gregorius has increased his launch angle year over year, to the point where his average angle this season was somehow higher than those posted by Evan Gattis, Kris Brian and Cody Bellinger.  Gregorius is trying to hit fly balls.  And he’s being rewarded because now, in this home-run environment, Gregorius had just enough pop to make it work.”"

Gregorius is evolving as an offensive force with every year.  While Fangraphs projects Gregorius to hit 20 home runs for the Yanks this year, down from the 25 he hit in ’17, remember projections are not predictions.

No one predicted that Gregorius would become the offensive power bat that he has become; although, Gabriel Baumgaertner of SI.com has said:

"“Gregorious might be the player that best stabilizes one of baseball’s most fearsome offenses.”"

Next: Yankees undervalued prospects, Part 1

Gregorius will not be looking in the rear-view mirror at the prospects on his heels because he will be helping to key an offense that came within one game of competing for the World Series, and he will surely remain one of it’s most productive bats going forward.