Gyorko Turns the Switch
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It didn't take Jedd Gyorko long to make an impact in his second big league spring training. In his first spring at-bat against Seattle's Hector Noesi, the San Diego Padres prospect took a 2-1 fastball deep for a grand slam.
On Tuesday, Gyorko didn't even need that many pitches. Pinch hitting in the bottom of the eighth, Gyorko swatted his third homer of the spring in 10 at-bats on the first pitch from Cincinnati's Wilkin De La Rosa, putting the Padres up, 7-5.
"Gyorko's done a nice job. He's swung the bat well in practice and in batting practice, done a nice job," says San Diego manager Bud Black.
So far this spring, Gyorko -- the No. 71 prospect in the minors as ranked by Baseball America -- has hit .400 in four games, with nine RBI and just two strikeouts in 10 at-bats. Gyorko has spent much of his life as a third baseman, but last year, the Padres – knowing full well that incumbent hot cornerman Chase Headley had third base locked down for the foreseeable future – decided that the best way to get Gyorko to the big leagues was for him to switch positions.
"They told me about a month into the season last year," Gyorko says. "So, I was kind of alternating between third and second for about half the games, from that point on. I was excited when they told me that I could have the chance to go over there. I played there when I was little, and I've always enjoyed playing second base, so it was definitely an exciting time."
Despite being a third baseman by trade, Gyorko's fielding percentage at second (.989) is much better than at third (.951), though he has only played 48 games at second, while playing 223 at third in the minors.
"The games that he's played, he seemed very solid at second base," Black says. "He's comfortable at second base. He played a lot of second base as an amateur, and a lot last year as a minor league player. He's doing his thing. He's doing what our minor league people expected he'd do. He's a good player."
At West Virginia, after starting his career as a shortstop with a 21-game hitting streak, Gyorko switched to second base his sophomore season, hitting .421. No matter where Gyorko plays, nothing affects his work at the dish. As a junior for the Mountaineers, he switched back to short and hit .381 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs, and was drafted in the second round (59th overall) by the Padres in the 2010 MLB Draft.
In 2011, Gyorko hit .333, splitting time between High-A and Double-A, earning an invite to big league camp as a third baseman, where, despite the fact that Headley stood as quite a large road block on his way to the Major Leagues, he still bonded with the veteran infielder.
"Chase is an awesome guy, and he's first-class all the way," says Gyorko. "If I ever have any questions, I'm always able to go to him, and he's always there for me. That's what you look for in a leader, and that's what he does. Younger guys seem to always go to him, and if we ever need him, he's always there for us."
Last season, while in the process of making the switch to second, Gyorko just kept on hitting. In 2012, splitting time between Double-A and the Pacific Coast League, Gyorko 30 bombs with a .311/.373/.547 slash line.
"You never take your at-bats out into the field, and you never take your fielding into the box with you, so it's a completely different part of the game. I've been pretty fortunate. It's good that we have a little bit of an extended spring this year, that I can go out and get some extra work. We have some of the best coaches in baseball, so I'm definitely blessed to have them around and get me the work that I need."
All the while, he was honing his glove.
"Obviously, the first change is the angle," says Gyorko. "Coming off the bag, the ball's going to be coming on a different side of the field. You've got to get used to lefties pulling the ball and righties pushing the ball that way, so making that adjustment, and then also being around the base is probably the most important thing. At third base, you don't really have to worry about being around the base, you don't have to worry about your pivots, so it's getting used to that, and then going out there and keep working every day to get better."
After his first spring game, he spent an hour on one of the back fields at the Peoria Sports Complex, fielding even more grounders at second.
"We only did that the one day, it just happened to be the first game," says Gyorko. "We've been able to get the work in before the games usually, so if I feel the need to get a couple extra groundballs, the coaching staff is always available, and I can go out there and get my extra work in."
While the Padres have yet to speak with Gyorko about where he'll wind up this season -- the fact that he's wearing a scrub-sized No. 68 jersey gives some indication -- it's obvious that he won't be in the minors for much longer.
"We haven't talked about breaking camp," says Gyorko. "It's still a long ways off, so a lot is still to be determined. They just said to come out and work hard and try to earn a spot."
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