From Atop My Soapbox

Those who have followed me on twitter the past few years know how greatly I value defense in baseball. They also know how effusive I am in my regard for the defensive prowess of Didi Gregorius. I have extolled his remarkable defensive ability since the first time I saw him in a Cincinnati Reds Spring Training camp.

I really began to consider Gregorius an elite shortstop in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. His athletic ability, his grace, his amazingly soft hands and quick feet, his outstanding range and his cannon of an arm were poetic to me. Every time I saw him I liked him more and more.

Over the years I had seen other young, inexperienced shortstops in the Fall League that I couldn’t stop writing about. Players like Alcides Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria and others had dazzled me in the AFL, but none quite caught my attention as much as Gregorius. He was, and is, special.

Gregorius was part of a three-team trade in 2012 between the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dbacks sent Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw to Cleveland. The Reds sent Drew Stubbs to Cleveland. The Indians sent Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp to Arizona. The Indians sent Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald and cash to the Reds. Do you have all that?

When the deal was made, I was ecstatic. I would get to see Didi play shortstop on a regular basis. He didn’t disappoint. His defense was majestic, as expected. Maybe even better. His offense was raw and behind his defense. I kept writing that patience is required. He will come around with the bat. I sighted Omar Vizquel as a perfect example of a defensive wizard who was challenged offensively. Until the light went on. Until he gained enough experience to learn how to hit Major League pitching. Omar: 1989 .220, 1990 .247, 1991 .230, 1992 .294. He kept improving and improving and finished his 24-year career at .272.

No, Didi is not Omar. But in my opinion Didi is very close to Omar defensively.

But when the light goes on for Didi, and I think it will, he’ll be playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. And he’ll get his share of home runs into the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. And he’ll improve as a hitter. In time.

Yesterday I heard Steve Sax discuss Gregorius on MLB Radio. It was as if I was hearing my own words coming back to me. Sax indicated Yankees fans will be thrilled with what they see from Gregorius. He predicted audible oohs and ahs from Yankees fans at the plays Didi will make. He said Gregorius was among the finest defensive shortstops he had every seen. High praise from a guy who played the game. And who watched him play regularly with the Dbacks.

Nobody can replace Derek Jeter. Someone will play his position. That someone will be Gregorius against right-handed pitching initially with Brendan Ryan playing against lefties. And by the way, Ryan is a fantastic defensive shortstop in his own right.

Being chronologically advanced, I have had the great pleasure and privilege of seeing countless fantastic defensive shortstops. Several like Ozzie Smith and Adam Everett come to mind. Of course, Escobar and Hechavarria make my list. In today’s game, I find Andrelton Simmons the gold standard. Not even Didi matches up with him It’s close, but Simmons takes my prize. More are on the way.

In exchange for Gregorius, the Dbacks bolstered their pitching by obtaining lefty Robbie Ray and helped their organizational depth by receiving shortstop/second baseman Domingo Leyba from Detroit. The Yankees sent right-handed pitcher Shane Greene to the Tigers.

Ray is a work in progress. Still young and relatively inexperienced at 23, the lefty starter could find himself at the back end of the Dbacks rotation. The team is not deep in pitching. If they can afford more development time for him, so much the better. He still has inconsistent command and control, but I saw improvement during his Arizona Fall League season. The same improvement Dbacks brass must have seen. I think his upside could help make this a nice transaction. The real prize could well be Leyba. He has a strong, projectable hitting tool and an ability to grow into a fine defensive infielder. He probably profiles best at second base-a future need for Arizona. His presence in the deal really helps balance things out a bit.

In essence, the Tigers have traded Doug Fister, Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba for Shane Greene and lefty reliever Ian Krol. Ray was the primary player dealt by Washington to Detroit for Fister in 2013. Krol is serving in the Tigers pen.

Greene could fill a rotation role (that at one time may have been reserved for Ray) if and when the team loses Max Scherzer and/or another starter like Rick Porcello. Is Greene capable? He just turned 26 and is coming off a season of 14 starts in New York. He threw 78 2/3 innings. He yielded 3.3 walks per nine and struck out 9.3 per nine. Those are solid numbers. The walk rate will probably improve. He had an ERA of 3.78 and a WHIP of 1.39. He is a pitcher with promise and upside. He could certainly be a very good addition. But giving up Doug Fister? I’m still scratching my head about that one.

Arizona now turns to very capable shortstop Chris Owings to replace Gregorius. Owings is a better hitter than Didi to date in his young career. For me, Gregorius is a far better defender. The team traded Owings’ good offense and good defense for Didi’s fair offense and great defense IMO. Prospect Nick Ahmed waits in the middle infield wings along with very, very capable utility infielder Cliff Pennington. If he shows he can hit, Aaron Hill will probably get most of the playing time at second base.

But Didi won’t be there to glide deep in the hole, plant his feet and then shoot a 90 mph or more strike on time to first base. Some have said he hits higher than 90. With accuracy. Didi won’t be there to glide behind second base, plant and then throw out the runner by an eyelash. Didi won’t be there to race out to short center or deep along the left field foul line to pull a ball out of the air in what looks like an effortless manner. He’ll be in New York. I wish him well. Soon-maybe even this coming season or the next one at the latest, we’ll talk about his hitting. He’s Omar Vizquel. Steady offensive improvement. Maybe more pop in his bat. Acrobatic defense. Run saving defense.

Yankees fans—enjoy. He’s a treat to watch.

Thanks for reading my scouting profiles on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. I’ll be writing this blog every day from the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

That’s it. I’m done.

 

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