Is Isiah Kiner-Falefa's Yankees rise following same trajectory as Didi Gregorius?

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Isiah Kiner-Falefa scores winning run vs. Guardians
Isiah Kiner-Falefa scores winning run vs. Guardians

Thanks to Derek Jeter, the weight of playing shortstop in pinstripes at 1 E 161 St. in the Bronx is heavier than any other stadium in MLB. The Captain set a precedent with ultra-reliable defense, hitting for average and the occasional flair play that takes fans' breath away.

Like many, Isiah Kiner-Falefa grew up idolizing Jeter on the Yankees. On Opening Day this year, he was standing right where Jeter did every game as he won World Series and set the tone for one of the most storied franchises in the world.

So, yeah, the pressure is tremendous, and you can't blame anyone for being a little timid or shaky at first as they get used to it.

IKF did struggle when the new season began, and despite him being a sound glove and solid contact bat for the Texas Rangers, it was honestly expected. Bigger city. Bigger lights. Bigger expectations, especially considering how many All-Star caliber shortstops were available in free agency.

But another shortstop came in the building and felt that pressure, too, and he turned out just fine. In fact, Didi Gregorius was Jeter's successor after he hung up the cleats.

You want to talk about pressure? Yankee fans were judging extremely hard after every at-bat and every ground ball hit Didi's way. And the results were eerily similar to what Kiner-Falefa went through.

Take Gregorius' first 10 games as a Yankee in 2015 for example: He hit .152/.194/.152, going 5-for-33 with just 2 RBI and a .346 OPS. He also made one error in that span -- not terrible at all but throwing that ball across the diamond definitely felt different than playing with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) singles against the Houston Astros in the seventh inning in game one of the 2019 ALCS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park.
New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) singles against the Houston Astros in the seventh inning in game one of the 2019 ALCS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park.

But the Yanks saw a young shortstop with a soft glove, great range and the ability to add a different dimension to their lineup with a left-handed contact bat. They believed that would show once he got acclimated to his new threads, new teammates and a new, raucous fanbase.

Sound familiar?

Kiner-Falefa's first 10 games went almost the same: .214/.267/.286 (6-for-28), two doubles, no RBI, seven strikeouts and a .552 OPS. He also made an error in his second game on a simple throw to first.

I mean, imagine your first Yankees series is at home against the Boston Red Sox, experiencing that rivalry immediately? It has to be nerve wracking.

But, like any good professional would, IKF settled down and now he looks like he's at home. He's the Yankees' hottest hitter right now, owning a .409/.417/.500 slash line since those first 10 games with two doubles and five RBI, including the game-tying hit this past Saturday against the Cleveland Guardians against a very tough Emmanuel Clase on the mound. He whipped around his bat on an inside 100.3 mph fastball and almost walked it off entirely as the ball hit the top of the left field fence.

Now, Gregorius finished his 2015 campaign with a .265/.318/.370 slash line, which he probably wanted to be better. But we all know he started to find that sweet lefty stroke at the dish in the seasons after that, finding a new swing path that favored the short porch in right field. He also flashed some strong leather at short, becoming a staple who Yankee fans didn't want to see leave after 2019.

We'll see what Kiner-Falefa ends up posting on his stat sheet at the end of the year. But one thing is for sure: The new kid on the block looks considerably more comfortable donning those pinstripes, and he's looking like the player the Yanks were confident enough to trade for this offseason to play a very important position.

He just needed some time to adjust.