Yankees: Didi Gregorius primed to make first All Star Game

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Didi Gregorius
TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Didi Gregorius /

Entering his seventh big league season, shortstop Didi Gregorius is still one of the most unheralded members of the Yankees. However, that’s all about to change, as Sir Didi is primed for a grand campaign.

The 89th Mid-Summer Classic is still a ways away — July 18 in Washington D.C. to be exact. But it’s never too early to begin the campaign for #SirDidiToDC. That’s right; the Yankees shortstop has reached the point in his career where he deserves to be recognized not only by the fans but his peers.

In Monday night’s final tune-up before opening day on Thursday, Gregorius was at it again. In the top of the first inning, Giancarlo Stanton worked a two-out walk to bring Didi up to the plate.

Facing former Yankee right-hander, Brandon McCarthy, Didi took the first pitch high and inside.

McCarthy’s next offering was a sinker that Gregorius dropped the bat head on, crushing the ball deep over the right-field wall.

Not that anyone should be surprised, but Didi has picked up right where he left off last October, tied for a team-high five home runs and 13 RBI while batting .283 with a .944 OPS this spring.

The thing that you must be impressed with is that the 28-year-old Curacao native has gotten better every year since becoming a regular starter with the Yankees back in 2015.

In his first three big league seasons, Gregorius hit 25 long balls. Since 2016, he’s combined to slug 45. So what’s changed?

As FanGraphs points out, a crucial part of Didi’s uptick in productivity has to do with his increased ability to pull the ball, much like he did on Monday night.

"Exactly 100% of Gregorius’ 25 home runs last year were pulled to right field. Like most left-handed hitters, he did most of his damage vs. right-handed pitching (22 of 25 home runs), but strangely enough his slugging percentage was lower in New York (.426) than on the road (.528)."

The other aspect of Didi’s game that has dramatically improved is his proficiency in handling left-handed pitching.

Upon his arrival to the Bronx, in what is now known as one of Brian Cashman’s finest heists — the 6-foot-3, 205-pound infielder was coming off a dreadful line against southpaws: .137/.228/.196.

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However, in 2017, Gregorius raised his career mark against lefties to .253/.305/.341. For a guy that was regularly benched by the D’backs when the opposition trotted out a lefty, Gregorius has improved remarkably.

Of course, Didi tends to get overlooked because of the Yanks’ plethora of power bats, and this was before the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton.

But now that Greg Bird will miss the next 6-to-8 weeks following right ankle surgery, manager Aaron Boone may use Gregorius as his cleanup hitter to separate the right-handed behemoths known as Aaron Judge, Stanton and Gary Sanchez.

Talk about the potential to drive in a boatload of runs! And with it, Gregorius should now enter the conversation of top overall shortstops in the game.

For you fantasy baseball enthusiasts, CBS Sports recently released their third and final list of the top shortstops worth drafting. Scott White has Gregorius in his fourth tier, The Next Best Thing.

Didi comes in at No. 9, behind the likes of Alex Bregman (not a SS — though he did play it last season in Carlos Correa’s absence), Elvis Andrus, Xander Bogaertes and Jean Segura.

I understand that Tra Turner, Francisco Lindor, Correa and Corey Seager make up the top four, but there’s no way Didi shouldn’t be No. 5.

Considering Andrus will be hard-pressed to replicate his 20 home run, 88 RBI performance in 2017 (he never before hit more than eight dingers and 69 RBI in a single-season), at the very least, Didi should make the AL All-Star team as a backup infielder.

And yes, fantasy baseball considers different types of markers when ranking players, but real life or not, Gregorius’ consistent power and run-scoring ability while playing in New York deserve higher consideration than Bogaertes or Segura.

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Sitting in the middle of this rejuvenated Yankees’ lineup, I see no reason why Didi can’t hit .289 with an OBP upwards of .329 while topping 28 home runs and driving in 90. Talk about a career-year and a guaranteed trip to Washington D.C.