Unlike many returning starters on MLB rosters, the stakes are high for Didi Gregorius during Spring Training.
Gregorius started at shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks most of last year and played phenomenally well at the beginning of the season. However, he regressed painfully as the 2013 campaign carried on, going from batting over .400 in April down to under .200 in the month of September. Opposing pitchers started foaming at the mouth when the holes in Gregorius’s offensive game were exposed.
The Diamondbacks eventually called up Chris Owings to assume starting shortstop duties for 20 games late in the season after Owings posted phenomenal numbers in triple-A, and sent Gregorius down to the minors for seven games as he continued struggling at the plate. Gregorius finished 2013 batting .252 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs, while walking 37 times and striking out an additional 65 times in 357 total at-bats.
This season, Gregorius is competing with Owings for a spot in the 2014 starting lineup at shortstop, and he’ll need to show manager Kirk Gibson that he can bat consistently the entire season if he hopes to earn the job back.
On Friday, Gregorius made his case for a starting position during a Spring Training game vs. the Los Angeles Angels, smacking a two-run RBI double in the third inning. This one solid at bat bucked the trend for Gregorius so far this Spring as he has still struggled at the plate, going only 4-for-21 in 10 appearances so far. In addition, the Diamondbacks coughed up an unearned run during a game earlier in the week due to Gregorius’s costly throwing error, a rare incident for the 24-year old who was still dependable with the glove last season even as he faltered with the bat.
If Gregorius still wants his starting position back, he needs to start impressing Gibson and the rest of the coaching staff very soon. Otherwise, he could have more to worry about than omission from the lineup card. The Diamondbacks made it clear last season that they won’t hesitate to reassign Gregorius to the minors if his game needs development, and the way things have gone so far this Spring Training, he could be looking at an extended stay, especially with Owings waiting in the wings to fill his lineup spot.