'Sir Didi' not afraid to follow captain's reign
NEW YORK -- It's no small challenge to be the shortstop replacing Derek Jeter, a man who was considered by some to be virtual royalty around Yankee Stadium. Perhaps it is fitting that Didi Gregorius actually has the credentials for it.
Back in 2011, Gregorius was officially knighted in Curacao as a reward for being part of the Netherlands team that won the IBAF Baseball World Cup. As a result, Gregorius goes by "Sir Didi" on his public Twitter account, and he said that honor bleeds into his real life as well.
"Some people actually call me Sir Didi and everything," Gregorius said Friday on a conference call. "I don't really mind if they just call me Didi. It doesn't really matter."
Speaking from Curacao, Gregorius said that he was surprised by the three-team trade that dealt him from the D-backs to the Yankees on Dec. 5, a deal in which the Yanks sent right-hander Shane Greene to the Tigers. The 24-year-old Gregorius is excited for the opportunity that awaits in the Bronx.
"I always wanted to play in New York City and see Jeter play," Gregorius said. "And now that I'm following in his footsteps and I get to play in New York, I'll just go out there and be the best I can be when I play the game."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Tuesday that he and the coaching staff plan to advise Gregorius to be himself and not worry about emulating Jeter. The retired Yankees captain, who was making a public appearance in Manhattan this week, also offered words of encouragement.
"What does he have to do?" Jeter said, repeating a question. "Enjoy himself. Work hard. Play hard. He'll be just fine."
Gregorius said that he has not spoken with Jeter, but he did pay tribute to the captain's career two months ago. An avid artist, Gregorius sketched an image of Jeter tipping his batting helmet and posted it on his Twitter account.
"For me, he's the captain," Gregorius said. "He's always been the captain, with a lot of respect for the game. So when he said he was going to retire, I decided to draw a picture of him -- just for me. And for me, drawing is for fun, relaxing and everything, so I decided to draw him since he was going to retire."
Gregorius expects that there will be inevitable comparisons made between himself and the future Hall of Famer. He hopes that Yankees fans will embrace him for his own style of play.
"It's hard, because Jeter is still Jeter," Gregorius said. "Everything everybody is going to talk about is Jeter. But for me, I'm learning and [I'll be] there just to play the game, so [I'll be] just trying to focus on the game and trying to win every game."
In 2015, the Yankees envision using Gregorius as part of a platoon with another plus-rated defensive shortstop, Brendan Ryan. Gregorius is slated to take the majority of the at-bats against right-handed pitching.
Gregorius hit .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs over 80 games with Arizona last season. He has posted a .243/.313/.366 batting line in 191 games over parts of three Major League seasons, and the Yankees believe there is room for him to grow offensively.
"We think there's more in the tank there as he continues to develop," senior vice president and general manager Brian Cashman said. "I think he's an exciting talent, but obviously he's not a finished product."
The left-handed hitter slugged his first Major League home run off Phil Hughes at Yankee Stadium in April 2013, jumping on a fastball and targeting the right-field porch. The Yankees believe that playing home games in a friendlier facility could boost Gregorius' numbers.
"I wouldn't say that I'm going to be a home run hitter, but for me I think I'm more of a line-drive type of guy and make a lot of contact," Gregorius said.
Gregorius said that he has started hitting in preparation for Spring Training, and that he already believes he is in good enough shape to play in an exhibition game.
"I would say I'm proud of everything that I'm doing," Gregorius said. "It's just getting there and just getting the job done. One way or another, you've got to help your team win, so that's how I look at it."