For many people, 2013 doesn’t seem like a far-too-distant past. When measured in terms of the San Diego Padres‘ roster, however, 2013 can feel like light-years away. Opening Day 2013 harkens to a time when Edinson Volquez was on the mound, Cody Ransom was the starting third baseman, and fans were excited about a fresh and exciting prospect named Jedd Gyorko.
At the time, it was hard to imagine that a mere two years later, fans would be jeering Gyorko and calling for his removal from the line-up. When he made his debut in 2013, he epitomized hope in the Padres’ farm system. His home run stroke seemed to single-handedly rectify the Padres’ decade-long power shortage. He was one of San Diego’s players for the future, and his presence made it seem as though the future had finally arrived.
For the past five years, the Padres’ stats leaders was a sort of Russian Roulette. Although most offensive categories were led by Chase Headley, there was the perpetual possibility that some newcomer, whether prospect or trade acquisition or free agent, would overtake Headley in any number of categories. In 2013, San Diego found this dark horse in the form of Gyorko.
Before the start of the 2013 season, injuries to Headley and second baseman Logan Forsythe paved the way for Gyorko’s debut. Despite a groin injury that plagued his June and July, Gyorko’s rookie season fulfilled the high expectations set before his debut, and set even higher ones for the future.
His 23 home runs and 63 RBI’s were the most on the Padres, and he also led all MLB rookies in home runs, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.
Gyorko’s successful rookie campaign made him a quick fan favorite amongst the Friar faithful. His play on the field was coupled with a PR stunt that featured a play-on-words on a classic Seinfeld quote. Whenever the West Virginia native flashed his leather or knocked a home run, scoreboards and official Twitter accounts alike ceremoniously declared that the Gyorko store called.
It is therefore easy to understand the Padres’ initial confidence in Gyorko’s abilities. The organization saw Gyorko as having the potential to become a franchise player. Put simply, the Padres in 2013 saw Gyorko as their own David Wright.
Then-General Manager Josh Byrnes made these expectations clear when he rewarded Gyorko with a five-year contract extension worth $35 million. When the extension was signed in April 2014, Byrnes cited Gyorko’s personal and athletic attributes to justify the third-largest contract for any first-year player.
“I think he’s going to be a part of us establishing the kind of winning tradition we want to have here” Byrnes remarked.
Shortly afterwards, however, San Diego’s honeymoon phase with Gyorko’s productivity began to fade. He struggled in April and May, batting .156 and .186 in those months, respectively. After a plantar fasciitis injury sidelined Gyorko for most of June and July, he returned and hit with a batting average of .242 in the last two months of the season.
Gyorko’s sub-par production continued into the first month of 2015. After 52 at-bats during the month of April, he boasted a measly .135 average and an on-base percentage of .211. He struck out in nearly a quarter of his at-bats during the month of April. He hit zero home runs.
Gyorko’s miserable start to the 2015 season has left fans unhappy. Many want him traded, sent to the minors, or benched. To a degree, he has already lost playing time this season to Corey Spangenberg and Yangervis Solarte, both of whom have posed a significantly larger offensive threat than Gyorko.
Despite this, however, manager Bud Black has yet to permanently demote Gyorko to a bench role. He still receives a fair amount of playing time at second base, especially against left-handed starters. It seems, for the time being, that Black’s platooning of the second base role has helped Gyorko find his swing and make better contact than he did last year. In his 33 at-bats so far in the month of May, Gyorko has hit .333 with four doubles and a home run. Although his strikeout count of 10 remains high, it is evident that when he does indeed put the ball in play, it is now harder-hit and better-placed.
Although the Padres have shown faith in Gyorko in the past, it remains to be seen whether this confidence will resume, and for how long. Whether his hitting will continue to improve and he earns even more playing time is yet to be seen. Furthermore, whether General Manager AJ Preller has plans to relieve Gyorko of his duties is a question that has yet to be answered. Until that happens, Padres’ fans can only hope for their once-rising star to find glory again.