Yankees Stud Didi Gregorius is Doing Things Even Derek Jeter Never Could

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25:  Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees runs on the field to start the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on April 25, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Not so long ago, Didi Gregorius heard unrelenting boos from the New York Yankees faithful. 

Prior to the 2015 season, the Yankees acquired Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team swap and installed him as Derek Jeter's heir apparent. In the first two calendar months of that season, he hit .221 and committed six errors. 

The fans weren't subtle. They jeered. They doubted. They chanted Jeter's name.

"I've been hearing that a lot," Gregorius said at the time, per Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News. "I just laugh. There's nothing I can do about it."

Nothing except prove the haters wrong. Which is exactly what Gregorius is doing in 2018.

Through 28 games, the 28-year-old is hitting .333 with a 1.159 OPS. He's cracked 10 homers and driven in 30 runs. All three of those latter totals pace the powerful young Yankees lineup and lead or are tied for the lead in MLB.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Gregorius is fronting an offense that includes reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, reigning American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge and stud catcher Gary Sanchez, among others.

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On a Yankees squad that leads baseball in runs and OPS, he stands tall.

So tall, in fact, he's getting curtain calls on the road. On April 27, Gregorius launched a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, and the appreciative Yanks fans in attendance applauded him out of the dugout.

"It was a little weird, but there are a lot of [Yankees] fans here," said Gregorius, per George A. King III of the New York Post. "I didn't expect that, to be honest."

Likewise, New York wasn't expecting Gregorius to be its best hitter.

In the Yankees' home opener, he launched a pair of three-run homers and collected eight RBI in an 11-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. Behold, via the Yankees' official Twitter feed:

"It's awesome," Stanton said, per King. "I have a front-row seat for it, being on deck."

Jeter will always have a place in Yankees lore. He's a shoo-in for Hall of Fame induction when he's eligible in 2020.

Yet, the Yankee Captain's reputation is taking a beating at the moment. He's the face of an ownership group that's unceremoniously tearing down the Miami Marlins and is absorbing heat, as Bleacher Report's Danny Knobler outlined in January.

That doesn't erase the five rings Jeter won with the Yankees or the countless iconic moments he engineered in the Bronx.

It does, however, give Gregorius wiggle room to enter the conversation as the next great Yankees shortstop and to move out of Jeter's shadow. 

Jeter never hit more than 24 home runs or posted an OPS higher than .989. Gregorius is on pace to obliterate both of those totals. Defensively, Gregorius put up a 7.0 Ultimate Zone Rating in 2017, per FanGraphs, which exceeded Jeter's career-best 6.3 UZR.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees in action against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on April 26, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. New York Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins 4-3.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Sure, we're squarely in small-sample territory. But Gregorius is coming off a season in which he broke Jeter's franchise record for home runs by a shortstop with 25. In 2016, he hit 20 home runs. Put it together, and he's the first Yankees shortstop to hit 20 or more homers in back-to-back seasons, as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch noted. 

"We don't even bring him up anymore," veteran left-hander CC Sabathia said of Jeter, per Wallace Matthews of the New York Times. "Didi's been that good."

Gregorius' legacy pales beside Jeter's, of course. Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown stated it well: "As for the The Next Shortstop thing, let's agree there's not yet a comparison to be made, a conversation to be had, not until the championships come and the decades pass."

That said, look how far Gregorius has come in such a short time. A few seasons ago, fans were chanting another player's name while he missed and booted the ball. Now, they're chanting his name from Yankee Stadium to Southern California. 

Not so long ago, the Jeter comparison seemed like a weight around Gregorius' neck. Today, it's a footnote to his impressive production and sky-high potential.

        

All statistics current as of Monday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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