Meet Jedd Gyorko -- the best offensive second baseman who doesn't get nearly enough attention outside of San Diego. While many casual observers are still trying to figure out how to pronounce his name, the former West Virginia Mountaineers star is preparing for his sophomore season with the Padres. I spoke with Gyorko moments after he walked out of the batting in Peoria, Ariz. As he reflected on how his life has changed in the last 12 months, it was clear that his professionalism and maturity are as impressive as his work ethic.
"It's changed a lot, actually," Gyorko said. "It's been a whirlwind of exciting things. There's obviously been the challenges, but it's been, probably most importantly, it's been a big learning experience for me to get to know the pitchers that I'm facing, and hopefully it's something I can build on going forward."
Over the last few years while coming through San Diego's Minor League system, Gyorko has picked the brains of the best to ever play. Imagine getting hitting advice from Padres legends Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield? Gyorko soaks in the lessons and advice from the Hall of Famers as well as former Padres Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta. The common message:
"Go at it every day," Gyorko said. "Every day brings a new world of possibilities into the game, so make sure I'm ready to go every single day and get out there and play hard."
Play hard, practice hard and be ready to drive in runs when the opportunity presents itself. Gyorko says that one area of his offensive game he'd like to improve on is hitting with runners in scoring position. Last year's .184 average in such situations isn't going to cut it.
"The name of the game is scoring more runs than the other team, so to drive in those runs when the opportunity presents itself will be big for me," Gyorko said.
The desire to work hard to improve is one of the things MLB Network analyst and Atlanta Braves senior advisor John Hart likes about Gyorko. Hart says his work ethic and bat will translate to a long productive career. If you're looking for a comparison, look at Uggla, but Hart predicts that Gyorko will hit for a higher average, but perhaps a bit less power. You could also compare Gyorko's production numbers to that of Jason Kipnis, although the Indians' second baseman, a left-handed hitter, is a bit more athletic and able to steal a base when needed.
There's a chance, Hart says, that Gyorko won't remain at second base for the long term. If the Padres don't retain Chase Headley, they could move Gyorko back to his natural position at the hot corner. That's the future. Gyorko is concerned with the present and refining his skills at his current position. He cites his work with Padres coach Glenn Hoffman.
"It helps me tremendously as far as positioning and my footwork around the bag. All those things added up to me having a good year last year," Gyorko said. "It's something that we're gonna keep working on and trying to get better. There's always room for improvement."
There's the work ethic again. No surprise when I asked Gyorko to talk about players he emulates or admires, the first name to pop out is that of a former MVP and two-time World Series champion.
"When I was in college, I enjoyed watching the way Pedroia played," Gyorko said. "I like the grittiness that he has to go out there every single day and give it everything he's got. That's a guy I'd like to model myself after, just the way he plays the game."
High expectations for sure. But Gyorko wouldn't have it any other way.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.