With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, continuing this week with the middle infielders.
Didi Gregorius arrived in New York in December of 2014, prompting seemingly endless comparisons to his predecessor at shortstop. Replacing the recently-retired Derek Jeter in the hearts and minds of Yankees fans would be impossible, the young shortstop recognized.
Yet, three years and two months later, those questions have subsided. Overcoming a perceived inability to hit left-handed pitching, Gregorius has established himself as the Yankees' present and future at the position, coming off a 25-homer campaign in which he shattered Jeter's 1999 record for blasts by a Bombers shortstop (24).
"There's a lot of times guys put a label on a person without letting the person develop," Gregorius said in October, the night he slugged two homers off Indians ace Corey Kluber to help the Yankees advance to the American League Championship Series. "But you don't know how hard a guy works to get where he wants to be, to stay where he wants to be and to keep making adjustments every year to try to get better."
Despite missing most of April with a right shoulder injury, Gregorius set career highs in runs (73), homers and RBIs (87) in 136 games, leading the roster with 44 multihit games and hitting a team-best .304 with runners in scoring position.
"For me, I always believed in myself," Gregorius said. "There's always people that are going to doubt you. At the end, it's up to you how hard you want to work."
Overall, Gregorius batted .287/.318/.478, serving as the Yankees' cleanup hitter on 42 occasions. After the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton in December, Gregorius tweeted to new manager Aaron Boone, "Hey skip, am I still batting 4th?" Boone said that he laughed when he saw the tweet.
Gregorius' prior double-play partners in The Bronx have been Stephen Drew and Starlin Castro, and he will welcome a new one in 2018.
Top prospect Gleyber Torres is expected to make a strong push toward New York, returning from Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow. The 21-year-old hit .287/.383/.480 in 55 games for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, slugging seven homers with 34 RBIs.
"He's a really talented hitter and has instincts that are very hard to teach as a hitter," said P.J. Pilittere, Torres' hitting coach at Triple-A. "He has really good ability to make adjustments and power potential that he is developing. He can use the whole field and has a really good idea for a young kid of how pitchers are trying to attack him. He's got a real bright future ahead of him."
Though general manager Brian Cashman has said that service time will not be a consideration in Torres' case, keeping Torres in the Minors until April 14 would give the Yankees an extra year of control before free agency, as the Cubs did in 2015 with Kristopher Bryant.
Boone has called it a "toss-up" when asked about Torres' chances at second base. Ronald Torreyes played well in Gregorius' absence last April. He could provide a steady hand at second base, coming off a year in which he hit .292/.314/.375, making 43 starts at second base, 26 at shortstop and 16 at third base.
Other choices for second include Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade and a pair of non-roster invitees in Danny Espinosa and Jace Peterson. Espinosa, a switch-hitting 30-year-old who hit a career-high 24 homers for the Nationals in 2016, batted .173/.245/.278 in 93 games for the Angels, Mariners and Rays last year. Peterson, 27, slashed .215/.318/.317 in 89 games for the Braves.
"[Torres] is going to get a fair look in the spring," Cashman said. "Whether he's ready to jump all-in, I don't know yet, but we have other guys competing with him."