SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Analysis of Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu often devolves into argument. One side promotes him as an underappreciated master of defense and possessor of an offensive game no longer appreciated. The other denigrates his .404 career slugging average in six Rockies seasons -- not high enough with
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Analysis of Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu often devolves into argument. One side promotes him as an underappreciated master of defense and possessor of an offensive game no longer appreciated. The other denigrates his .404 career slugging average in six Rockies seasons -- not high enough with home games at Coors Field -- and essentially devalues the importance of the traits that have earned him Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.
No wonder MLB Network's "Top 10 Second Basemen Right Now!" was all over the place, with some analysts putting him high on their lists and others leaving him off entirely.
But sometimes it's better to watch than pontificate. OK, he simply pounds hits the opposite way and doesn't have the lift-the-ball-out-of-the-park offensive approach so en vogue around the game and, increasingly, at his position.
But a National League batting title with a .348 average in 2016 and last year's .310 aren't chump change, and the way he burned extreme shifts against him by the D-backs (with pitchers other than Zack Greinke) and Padres last year demonstrates a savoir faire many players could emulate.
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But if you want truly special traits, at 6-feet-4, LeMahieu reaches balls others don't, and with a shortstop's arm he can make throws others can't. The catch phrase in descriptions of him often fall back on "not flashy," often confusing his quiet off-field nature with his actual play. But any photographer should have his flash bulbs ready for LeMahieu's patented double-leg slide and the way he contorts to make glove plays and flips to second on plays up the middle.
LeMahieu is appreciated to some degree. MLB Network's "Top 100 Players Right Now!" placed him at a not-to-shabby No. 81; NL managers and coaches have voted him the Gold Glove Awards; and peers voted him to his second career All-Star Game in 2017. And if he wanted to block the noise with the bucks from the one-year, $8.5 million contract he received to avoid arbitration in his final year of eligibility, he could. For his part, LeMahieu simply opens his ears to those who matter to him most.
"I just try to play my game, and I feel like my teammates respect me -- try to be a leader, try to be my game, and be a good teammate," LeMahieu said. "That means more than anything, to have respect from other teammates or other teams. I guess that means I'm impacting the game in some way or another. That's definitely a good feeling."
Before taking over as Rockies manager last season, Bud Black suspected there was more to LeMahieu than stat-based back and forth. He experienced the play, and broke through the quiet to learn more.
"Student of the game, watches what's happening -- just from an in-game standpoint, very aware and astute of in-game happenings," said Black , who managed for the Padres against LeMahieu. "The real subtleties of the game, he's very good at, whether it's strategy stuff, signs, other teams' tendencies, our tendencies, our pitchers, our players. He's very astute at what's going on in the game. So the baseball IQ is high. I sort of sensed that from the other side, but it was validated when I got around him.
"I've got to bring it out of him. I've got to talk to him. But the baseball conversations are good ones. You can get a little deeper with DJ, because he gets it."
After experimenting in the Minors with adopting a power stroke that could end all offensive arguments, LeMahieu found his strengths and blocked out the often-well-meaning advice. That doesn't mean he is stubborn; just true to himself. He will try to squeeze out more, but do it his way.
"I've had a really good year [in 2016], and last year I had a good year, but I don't feel like I hit the way I could've and should've, especially at some points in the year," he said. "So I'm looking to keep it consistent throughout the whole year, and just continue to get better.
"I'm done experimenting. I'm just trying to be the best hitter I can be and be the best at what I do."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and** like his Facebook page**.