Paul Goldschmidt’s status has changed this spring, but nothing else about him appears drastically different.
The Diamondbacks’ Day 1 starter at first base, Goldschmidt is following the same routine he used as a non-roster invitee to spring training exactly a year ago. Early to work. Attention to detail. Questions, questions, questions.
It is what the D-backs grew to admire about Goldschmidt last spring, and one of the reasons they had no qualms about promoting him to the major leagues from Class AA on Aug. 1. The 30 home runs in four months at Mobile did not hurt, either.
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson resists almost any temptation to make long-term projections about his players, an outgrowth of being compared in the early stages of his career to Mickey Mantle. But Goldschmidt’s skill set and mindset made it hard for even Gibson to resist.
“He has had over 100 RBI everywhere he has been in the minor leagues. My guess is, at some point in his career he will be that guy in the major leagues,” Gibson said Tuesday.
“He takes care of himself as good as you can expect. He’s very strong. Nutrition is good. He has good off-field habits. He understands what being a professional is. It is all very good (for him) to be contributor here for a long time.”
That’s Gibson at full blush.
Goldschmidt would not go there, of course. Probably never will, not even with 93 homers and 296 RBI in first 367 professional games, including a two-homer NLDS against Milwaukee.
“My whole goal in spring training is to continue to learn, continue to improve and be ready for the start of the year,” he said. “Once the start of the year comes, do whatever I do to help the team. That was my goal last year, my goal the year before. That’s what I’ll try to do this year.”
“It’s a little different, but it is not as different as you would think.”
Goldschmidt, 24, has worked recently on shortening his batting stroke, a common exercise. He was given a day off last week and spent extra time in the batting cage; the results included a home run to right-center field against Oakland on March 20 and a double off the right-field fence in a 4-3 victory over San Francisco on March 21.
“If you want to stay in the big leagues, you try to shorten your swing every day,” Gibson said.
“That never changes. You want to be quick and straight to the ball. It gives you better options. When you see him hitting to right or right-center, he is doing what he wants to do.”
Goldschmidt also believes he is at his best when is driving the ball to center and right-center, something he has been able to do since his days at Texas State, where he was the Southland Conference hitter of the year in 2008-09.
“Obviously you are always trying to get where you want to be,” he said. “You are always working, always trying to feel comfortable, always trying to get your routine down and be more consistent. You try to stick with your strengths, but guys in this league are so good at making adjustments. There are so many statistics, so much video out there.
“The game is changing. Pitchers are always changing. You always have to be ready to make adjustments. That’s the fun part of it.”
The power translated quickly in 2011. Goldschmidt homered off Tim Lincecum twice and Cliff Lee once. Gibson said he was impressed by the way Goldschmidt handled the inevitable failure. Goldschmidt’s longest hitless streak was 14 at-bats, a few weeks into his call-up. Gibson recalled a 2-for-42 slump from his playing days.
“When you get in slumps, it’s how you process it,” Gibson said. “After a while, it really gets you mentally. It is hard to physically perform. Goldy did a good job of that. He has some games that he was not very good, but he came back and really performed.”
Said Goldschmidt: “It’s what makes it so tough sometimes, dealing with all the failure. You do the best you can. Sometimes it works out and other times you look and wish you would have stopped struggling quicker and not get so frustrated.”
Meanwhile, Goldschmidt continues to talk defense with the veterans, especially first baseman Lyle Overbay. The two formed a bond after Overbay joined the D-backs last Aug. 13, and Overbay has been a willing mentor, passing along tips as Mark Grace did to him a decade ago, whether it is about subtle positioning or the best way to turn a short hop into a long hop.
“He probably gets annoyed that I am asking him so many questions,” Goldschmidt said with a smile.
Overbay does not seem to mind: “He’s willing to listen and to kind of pick my brain a little bit. I think he has a real good idea of what it takes to play this game and be successful. He knows his defense is a big part of it. Any time you can take your game to the next level … I’m just helping him on the way. It’s going to help this team.
“I know what Goldy can do. I see what Goldy can do. It’s about winning. That’s why I’m here. I want to win,” Overbay said.