Defense has long been the calling card for Cincinnati Reds shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius. He usually stands out with strong range, good hands, impressive overall athleticism, and a strong arm. Those tools and skills have been with him since he signed his first contract, and there is no question that he can play shortstop at the major league level.
With Gregorius the questions have always been about his bat.
In his first professional season he hit just .155/.241/.155 in 109 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League. As a 19-year-old he showed dramatic improvements as he hit .314/.363/.387 in the Pioneer League. His walk rate was low as he drew just 12 walks in 225 trips to the plate, though he also made a lot of contact as he struck out just 27 times.
The 2010 season was spent almost entirely in the Midwest League where he held his own with a .273/.327/.379 line to go along with 33 walks and 62 strikeouts in 548 plate appearances. His manager, Ken Griffey Sr. noted this early on in the 2010 season to the Dayton Daily News:
"Didi’s a very aggressive hitter," Griffey said. "He makes contact and understands how to use the barrel of the bat. He’s going to have the pop to hit 10-15 home runs."
That quote seemed to sum up a lot of the thoughts that I had heard on Gregorius throughout that season. He was rather aggressive, swinging early and shortening up his stride and swing in two-strike counts in order to fight for contact. While his power numbers remained down, at times he showed the bat speed and swing plane for some future growth.
In 2011 he was fortunate enough to find his way to the California League where he would hit .303/.333/.457 in 203 trips to the plate. His 10 walks coupled with 25 strikeouts showed the aggressiveness at the plate. The power numbers were up, though the league is well known to boost power. At mid-season Gregorius was promoted to Double-A and saw a decline as he would he just .270/.312/.392 in 160 plate appearances with nine walks and 25 strikeouts.
The questions about his bat remained as his power output, while up from previous seasons, was still on the low end and he remained rather aggressive at the plate.
2012 saw Gregorius begin back in Double-A where he improved offensively nearly across the board to hit .278/.344/.373 for Pensacola. His power was down, but his walk rate was up and his strikeout rate was down. After the season he would tell Baseball America that he was trying to be a singles hitter during the first half. After earning a promotion in the second half to Triple-A Louisville, Gregorius saw his power go up significantly as he slugged .427 thanks to 19 extra-base hits in 185 at bats, but his average and on-base percentage dipped to .243 and .288. He would see limited action in September, hitting a flat .300/.300/.300 in 21 plate appearances for Cincinnati.
So what do we make of all this?
That is going to depend on what kind of player he wants to become. Right now, he has several different approaches in his game (the make-contact approach, the two-strike approach, the power approach). I think he needs to settle on one style, decide whether he wants to focus on contact or on power. The frequent shifts in emphasis and indecision could potentially be holding him back.
Gregorius will be just 23-years-old for 2013, so there is still development time on the clock. If he adopts the power approach, I suspect he'll need a full year of Triple-A to make it work. If he focuses on being a singles hitter and looks for contact, I think he'll need less time.
Either way, his glove will keep him in the picture long enough for us to get a legitimate read on his hitting. No one will give up on him quickly.