didi gregorius

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius .

The Yankees started downplaying their expectations the moment they acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius.

Was the inexperienced 24-year-old going to replace Derek Jeter? Wait, general manager Brian Cashman said, first he’ll form a lefty-right platoon with Brendan Ryan, and we’ll go from there.

But on Thursday, Jeff Pentland, the new Yankees’ hitting coach, said he expects big things from Gregorius, whom he coached briefly with the Dodgers when Gregorius was in the organization’s farm system.

“He’s got a huge future,” Pentland told reporters on a conference call.

The Yankees hope he’s right.

They acquired Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-team deal that forced them to send Shane Greene, a promising starting pitcher, to the Tigers this offseason.

Gregorius didn’t appear to have a spot in Arizona, where the club decided the 22-year-old Chris Owings was its shortstop of the future. But Gregorius will be given every opportunity to impress in spring training, and likely even given some slack, considering his age and lack of previous playing time.

Gregorius played in just 80 games last season, hitting .226 with six homers and 27 RBI. The Yankees, however, believe Gregorius’ bat still has unrealized potential, and that his lefty stroke could benefit from Yankee Stadium’s right-field short porch. Add that to the perception Gregorius is already one of the game’s better defensive shortstops and, according to Pentland, the team has a reason to dream.

“There’s a lot in there,” Pentland said of Gregorius. “We’ve got to get it out. But the problem with young players is, you’ve got to be patient. I think this guy has big upside.”

As insurance should Gregorius struggle, the Yankees signed Stephen Drew to a one-year, $5-million deal this offseason. Drew, however, is expected to be the club’s starting second baseman, though he’s also considered — alongside Gregorius and Ryan — to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the majors.

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