Goldschmidt’s rapid rise has captured baseball’s attention

It is nearly impossible to get Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to discuss his meteoric rise among the ranks of baseball’s power hitters. The 25-year-old is just not comfortable going there.

“It’s a very humbling game,” Goldschmidt says, repeating a line that’s become second nature. “I don’t really want to draw attention, whether it’s good or bad.”

Goldschmidt might shy away from acknowledging the MVP-caliber season he has put together through the first 60-plus games, but the rest of the league is talking plenty, and the consensus is Goldschmidt has become one of baseball’s most feared hitters.

Entering Monday, he ranked in the top 10 in the National League of nearly every statistical category that matters — including first in RBI (58), third in OPS (.987), fourth in home runs (15) and slugging percentage (.589) and seventh in batting average (.320) and runs scored (43). The various sabermetric calculations rank him, along with Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki and Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez, among the three most productive hitters in the league.

His Arizona teammates jump at the chance to praise Goldschmidt.

“It’s pretty incredible,” outfielder Jason Kubel said. “It seems like he’s doing it every night. I’ve been around some very good players and seen some good things, but he’s putting it all together and doing it all.”

That’s coming from a veteran who played with two MVPs, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, in Minnesota. How about a little perspective from a pitcher who most nights gets to just sit back and watch Goldschmidt work?

“The pace he’s on is not surprising to anybody; we all knew his talent,” reliever Brad Ziegler said. “We’re all just amazed he’s keeping it going. At some point you feel like baseball says it has to stop, but we would’ve thought it would’ve stop long before now but it’s still going.”

D-backs players are obviously going to sing the praises of a teammate who has carried an injury-riddled team to the top of the NL West standings. As for an opponent’s perspective, here’s one from San Francisco’s two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Tim Lincecum, who seemingly has no answers when Goldschmidt is standing 60 feet and six inches away.

“He looks really balanced at the plate and he’s a calm hitter,” Lincecum said. “Those two right there make you tough from the get-go. Then when your bat stays in the zone as long as his bat path does, you can cover a wide range of pitches that will stay in the zone. So those three combined make him a really tough hitter.”

Goldschmidt is coming off a particularly dramatic stretch:

–On June 1, his eighth-inning grand slam off Carlos Marmol broke a 4-4 tie and gave the D-Backs a win over the Cubs.

–On June 4, his 14th-inning single to center field scored the winning run in a 7-6 win over the Cardinals.

–On June 5, he hit his second grand slam of the week in another victory over the Cardinals.

–On June 7, his three-run eighth-inning home run erased a 1-0 lead and lifted the D-backs over the Giants.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy called Goldschmidt an “all-around ballplayer.” Earlier this season, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called Goldschmidt “a one-man wrecking crew” after Goldschmidt went 7 for 13 with four home runs and nine RBI in the D-backs’ three-game sweep in LA.

There seems to be little disagreement that Goldschmidt is really, really good. The harder question to answer is how he got this good in less than two full seasons. This time two seasons ago, Goldschmidt was still in Double-A, still an unknown player a month and a half away from his big league debut.

A former eighth-round pick out of Texas State, Goldschmidt has made a distant memory of the scouting reports that said he had holes in his swing and would never hit for average.

“I think he just utilizes all the resources that are available to him,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “He has an expectation, a wish, a will, a way to do what he’s here for and what he wants to accomplish.”

Be it video study, scouting reports, conversations with coaches and teammates, extra work or concentrated adjustments, Goldschmidt leaves no stone unturned in his quest to keep improving and stay ahead of a league trying to figure him out.

“He’s just like a resource computer,” Gibson said. “The information, he just takes it all in. That can be dangerous to a lot of guys, but he has the ability to kind of sort through it and keep it simple.”

That’s all to say Goldschmidt’s rise has had nothing to do with luck. And as much as everyone recognizes Goldschmidt’s tireless work ethic, it’s hard to imagine anyone saw this coming. Even after a 20-home run, 82-RBI season last year, Goldschmidt was barely on the radar outside Arizona at the start of this season.

On Opening Day this season, Gibson slotted Goldschmidt in the No. 5 spot of the batting order and expressed some concern over hitting Goldschmidt too high in the order. Two months later Goldschmidt has firmly entrenched himself entrenched himself in the No. 3 spot held the past four seasons by Justin Upton, whose MVP potential is becoming more of an afterthought with each of Goldschmidt’s triumphs.

“He’s going to get better,” Gibson said. “He wants to get better. He studies hard.”

Gibson also credited Goldschmidt’s physical and athletic development for his quick rise, calling his stature now a “drastic change” from what it was when Goldschmidt debuted in August 2011.

Goldschmidt’s success, though, has gone well beyond individual accomplishment. He’s lifted the D-backs countless times this season. His home run Friday was his league-leading fourth go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later, and he leads the majors in win probability added, a statistic that measures the change in a team’s probability of winning based on the outcome of the player’s performance in specific situations — basically, Goldschmidt has done more in his at-bats to improve the D-backs’ chances of winning than any other hitter has for his team.

It’s easy to get excited about Goldschmidt’s eye-popping offensive production this season. What’s often overlooked is his defensive development. He has played Gold-Glove-caliber defense most of the season, and his 0.4 defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is best among all regular first baseman in the majors, as are his eight defensive runs saved.

This season at least, Goldschmidt is clearly one of the best first baseman in baseball, though he refuses to say so himself.

“I would never say that,” Goldschmidt said. “I just try to be the best I can. I mean, comparisons happen in this game. That’s just the way it is, but that’s not how I think about it. Those guys are probably the same. You want to be as good as you can be.”

In that regard, Goldschmidt is about as good as it gets right now. He’s a near lock for the All-Star Game, and at this pace will be at the heart of the MVP discussion late this season.

Perhaps an MVP trophy could force Goldschmidt to talk about himself for once, but don’t count on it.