John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
TAMPA -- Betting that Troy Tulowitzki will stay healthy and play at something resembling his old All-Star level probably wouldn't be a wise investment based on his recent history. But, for the moment at least, it's as if the ghost of Derek Jeter is back at shortstop for the Yankees.
He famously idolized Jeter, wearing No. 2 for the Rockies and Blue Jays. And to hear others talk about Tulowitzki, he brings some of that same star presence.
Tyler Wade, for example, is trying to break through in the infield for the Yankees, yet he couldn't be more thrilled at having Tulowitzki taking ground balls with him during workouts.
"When I was a kid, him wearing No. 2 in Colorado, he was the Derek Jeter of the west coast," Wade was saying at his locker on Wednesday. "If you were growing up a middle infielder, he's one of the guys you looked up to.
"He just played hard, man. He's all about winning. You could see it in his eyes -- he was better than you. It's pretty awesome having him as a teammate."
Wade was a Jeter guy first, of course, and has worn No. 12 in the Yankee organization because it was the next best thing to No. 2. Yet, when Tulowitzki asked if he'd give up his No. 12 for that same reason, the young Yankee infielder said he was only too happy to say yes.
"He gave me something for it -- I'd rather not say what, but he's been great to me," Wade said. "He's taken me under his wing. Going to lunch, being able to pick his brain, and just watching how he goes about his business has been great for me and some of the other young guys."
Whatever the similiarites between Tulowitizki and Jeter, the obvious difference is that by the time the former Yankee Captain was 34, he'd won four of his five World Series titles.Tulo, on the other hand, has come up short in postseason appearances with the Rockies and Blue Jays.
And that's exactly why he's here, he said on Wednesday, noting he could have signed with several other teams after the Blue Jays released him during the winter.
There was obviously an opening at shortstop here with Didi Gregorius out for at least half the season due to Tommy John surgery, yet Tulowitzki insisted "it wasn't that honestly. It's a chance to win. To win a ring. I've done a lot of things in my career, but that's one thing that's missing. It was strictly on that.
"I've always been about winning, and I know this is a good ballclub. Unfortunately, I didn't get to play last year so I watched a lot of baseball, and I saw a lot of this team. They came up just a little short and I want to help them finish it off with a championship."
With that in mind, Tulowitzki demanded a no-trade clause in his contract, and the Yankees were willing to oblige since they're only paying him the minimum salary. He's still owed $38 million on his contract with the Blue Jays.
But the point is that Tulowitzki wants his shot at winning, even knowing he's likely to be pushed to the bench -- or the street -- at some point when Gregorius returns.
And that's if he proves he can still play as well as avoid further injury, after missing all of last season due to double-heel surgery that Tulowitzki said is similar to what Yoenis Cespedes had over the last several months.
He looked good enough in the offseason private workout Tulowitzki gave them that the Yankees guaranteed he'd be the regular shortstop if he performed, and early in camp, he is getting rave reviews for the way he looks with the glove and the bat.
"I feel like he looks better right now than when I last played with him in 2015," fellow ex-Rockie DJ LeMahieu said on Wednesday. "He looks healthy, he looks smooth. He doesn't look like he's trying to play not to get hurt. It's great to see because I've seen what kind of player he can be."
It's a long season, however, and Tulowitzki's many injuries in recent years seemingly turned him into a shell of the player he was in his prime with the Rockies. As such, Aaron Boone said there is a plan to bring the shortstop along slowly in spring training, trying to make sure he stays healthy.
"The question for him is his ability to bounce back and endure the rigors of being a regular," Boone said.
For the moment, though, Boone also spoke of Tulowitzki's presence and competitiveness even in Spring Training drills, noting they have had an energizing effect on teammates.
LeMahieu says he benefited from it as a young second baseman with the Rockies.
"A big part of my success defensively came from learning from Tulo," LeMahieu said. "I did what he did and hopefully it was going to make me a better player. He was great with me. He just loves baseball, and so do I. He just sort of took me under his wing."
Yep, the more you hear about Tulowitzki, the more it's clear he does have a lot of Jeter in him. So it would be quite the feel-good story if he can have a productive comeback season in the Bronx.
Right now, it's just way too early to count on it.