With Jeff Pentland finally in place as the new hitting coach, he's been making the early rounds with the NY media and doing interviews to discuss his philosophy and plans for helping turn around what was a disgustingly inept offense last season. I've been having a little fun at his expense on Twitter pointing out some of the nothing quotes he's offered up so far, but there actually was something he said yesterday about a specific player that caught my attention. When discussing individual players, Pentland was especially positive talking about Didi Gregorius:
“I saw Didi a lot when I was with the Dodgers. I was there when they brought him up, and he started out very well, but just like most young hitters, they figure him out eventually. He’s an incredibly athletic player, he’s got a huge future, and I’m very excited that he’s a Yankee."
A "huge future", huh? That's pretty high praise for a guy with a .679 career OPS and a .721 career OPS in 7 MiL seasons. I know no new coach is going to come in and start being overly critical or negative about his players, but I think in this case there's more here than your typical coach speak. Pentland mentions his experience seeing Gregorius when he first came up, something that most in the Yankee organization probably didn't do, and I think that's worth something. Pentland may be a little ahead of the curve when it comes to working with Didi and maximizing his potential, and pairing that idea with Gregorius' history gives reason to believe that Pentland may be onto something.
Consider Gregorius' history of hitting for higher average in the Minors. Consider his low career Major League K rate (16.9%) and decent BB rate (8.1%), and then consider how those rates were better in Triple-A last season (10.0% K, 9.2% BB). Consider the fact that he hit .310/.389/.447 in 57 Triple-A games last season. Remember that he's shown some decent pop against right-handers and at least shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields against lefties. And keep in mind that he is a young player who has been shuttled back and forth between the Majors and the Minors since he first broke in back in late 2012.
Pentland made reference to MLB pitching figuring out Gregorius and there may be something to that. I also I think that "figuring out" could have been magnified by Gregorius finishing the 2013 season in the Majors, spending the first few months of 2014 back in Triple-A, and then the last 3+ back in the Majors. He hasn't had much of a chance to settle in, see how pitchers are pitching him differently, and working on re-adjusting his approach at the plate. If the Yankees are committed to him being the everyday shortstop and letting him get regular at-bats to work on that, I'd like to think that Pentland can help bring out some of that "huge" upside he sees in Gregorius.
At the end of the day, we're talking about a high contact/low strikeout hitter who can spray the ball into gaps, has some speed, and has enough over-the-fence pop to be dangerous in Yankee Stadium. That sounds an awful lot like Rob Refsnyder, who a growing number of Yankee fans are building up into the next great Yankee player before he's even made his debut, so why is he getting all the hype and love and Didi getting overlooked?
We know the Yankees have wanted Didi for a while and now we know that their new hitting coach has high hopes for him. I'm not quite sure how huge Gregorius' future is. I don't think anybody is. But I do think there's the possibility of it being true and Pentland's high praise adds to that belief.