Derek Jeter: Swing Changes Are Paying Off, But Will He Bounce Back in 2011?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIMarch 10, 2011

SARASOTA, FL - MARCH 07:  Infielder Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees warms up just prior to the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium on March 7, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Coming off the worst season in his 15-year career, Derek Jeter has a lot of questions to answer.

After an ugly contract negotiation, some questioned whether or not, at age 36, Jeter could still contribute offensively.

With Brett Gardner looking better and better with each full season, it's possible he could replace Jeter as the Yankees' leadoff hitter this season.

For now though, that role belongs to Jeter and he has every intention of keeping it that way.

Last season, Jeter batted just .270 with a .340 OBP, both career lows. Despite the off year, Jeter still managed to score more runs (111) than he did in 2009 (107) when the Yankees won the World Series, so he can still function as a leadoff hitter.

Then again, being on one of the best offensive teams in baseball doesn't hurt.

With silencing his critics in mind, Jeter entered the batting cage this spring with hitting coach Kevin Long, three weeks before the team's first full workout.

For Jeter, it's a chance to start a clean slate. There's no more contract negotiations to worry about and he can focus on baseball.

For Long, it's a chance for him to help one of the greatest players to ever wear pinstripes, reclaim his game and have the kind of season that just doesn't happen for someone turning 37 in June.

Jeter entered the 2010 season as a career .317 hitter. Put simply, the guy can hit. It's just a matter of identifying what went wrong last season. Long, widely considered one of the best hitting coaches in the game, feels he's done that.

Jeter began making mechanical changes to his swing last September. Instead of employing his usual "diving" style of hitting, by taking a long stride to the right of second base, Jeter is trying to keep things shorter and straighter.

There was evidence of progress late in the season. In his last 31 games, including the postseason, Jeter batted .311 with a .393 OBP.

Jeter is now looking to continue that success under the watchful eye of Long.

Through seven spring training games, Jeter is batting .333 (7-for-21) with two runs scored.

The hardest thing for a ballplayer to do is admit he's getting old. No one wants to be told they can't play anymore, let alone have that fact show up in the stat columns.

But a lot of people have serious concerns about Jeter's future and what he can give this club in 2011.

The only person who doesn't seem to share those concerns is Jeter himself, and rightfully so. You don't go from face of the winningest franchise in all of sports and leading your team to five world championships to a black hole in the lineup in the blink of an eye.

Jeter also has the benefit of working with Long, who has helped the Yankees rank first in runs and first in on-base percentage in three of his four years with the team.

The guy gets results, so there's probably no one better for Jeter to be working with.

We'll have to wait and see if Jeter can turn the clock back this season and turn skeptics into believers. 

However, one thing is clear: This is still Jeter's team and he's not ready to hang it up just yet.