Didi Gregorius Is Forgotten Star of Yankees' Hyped Lineup, MLB Shortstop Elite

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03:  Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees reacts after he hit a three run home run in the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on April 3, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The New York Yankees offense is stacked. Major League Baseball is loaded with top-shelf shortstops. These are irrefutable truths.

They're also facts that work against Didi Gregorius getting the recognition he deserves.

It's past time for that to change.

In the Yankees' chilly, soggy home opener on Tuesday, nothing could dampen Gregorius' bat. The 28-year-old clubbed two home runs and tallied eight RBI in an 11-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. The runs batted in were a single-game franchise record for a Yankees shortstop, as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch noted.

Gregorius has seven extra-base hits overall in 2018, with four doubles and a triple added to his pair of dingers. That places him in elite historical company, per Katie Sharp of River Ave Blues:

It's not as if Gregorius came out of nowhere. He hit .287 last season with 25 home runs and picked up stray MVP votes.

But in a lineup that features reigning American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, burgeoning superstar catcher Gary Sanchez and bashing offseason acquisition Giancarlo Stanton, it's easy for Gregorius to get overshadowed.

"I think everyone around the game understands how good he is and what a big-time player he has become," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after Gregorius' home-opener heroics, per John Harper of the New York Daily News.

Do they, though?

In addition to the studs on his own roster, Gregorius is eclipsed in the hype department by other members of MLB's glistening shortstop revolution, such as the Houston Astros' Carlos Correa, the Cleveland Indians' Francisco Lindor and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager.

We're not taking anything away from those guys. They're all special players, and they all ply their trade for legitimate contenders.

Gregorius is ready to enter the conversation, however, and to cast his lot among the game's shortstop elite.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03:  Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees scores a run off a single from teammate Tyler Wade in the second inning during Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on April 3, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty
Elsa/Getty Images

Consider how far he's come since the Yankees acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade prior to the 2015 season and anointed him Derek Jeter's heir apparent.

In the first two calendar months of that campaign, Gregorius hit a scant .221 and committed six errors. His chances of filling the Yankee Captain's cleats appeared somewhere between slim and none. Fans chanted the name of his legendary predecessor as a taunt.

Now, the man who was knighted in Curacao after winning the 2011 IBAF Baseball World Cup is looking positively kingly.

Stanton and Judge will clear the fences. Sanchez might be better than both, all things considered. Touted youngsters such as Gleyber Torres are knocking on the door of a loaded farm system.

Here's Gregorius, though, capably filling the role of lineup anchor. In the aforementioned home debut, Stanton struck out five times and heard some boos from the Bronx contingent. His shortstop had his back.

"Didi picked me up," Stanton said, per Harper. "That's [what] a cleanup hitter does, you clean up the garbage in front of you."

When the man who crushed 59 home runs last season and two on the first day of the 2018 season calls you a cleanup hitter, it's safe to say you're doing something right.

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 26: Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees hits a two-run first inning home run against the Atlanta Braves during a spring training game at SunTrust Park on March 26, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Image
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Once the dust has settled on 2018, it's possible Stanton, Judge, Sanchez et al. will boast better stats than Gregorius. He'll have to maintain his scalding pace to remain in the company of Correa, Lindor and Seager.

One red flag is his on-base tendencies, as he drew just 25 walks in 136 games last season and posted a pedestrian .318 on-base percentage. He must improve his career OBP of .314 if he wants to vault into the MLB firmament.

For the time being, Gregorius is the forgotten player du jour. He's doing big things in an even bigger market. The .268/.311/.435 slash line with 20 homers foretold by FanGraphs' Depth Charts feels less like a ceiling than a low-end floor.

At this rate, it won't be long before he gets the recognition he deserves and steps out of all the shadows.

      

All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of FanGraphs and MLB.com.

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