Goldschmidt emerging as D-backs cornerstone

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Last summer, we wrote that Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt already felt like a mainstay. This spring, the D-backs demonstrated that they think so, approaching the 25-year-old about a long-term contract.

On Friday, the parties reached accord on a five-year, $32 million deal that cements the long-term thinking of player and team, according to multiple reports.

The D-backs are betting on Goldschmidt as much as he’s betting on himself. Goldschmidt has just 193 major league games under his belt, yet the D-backs were intent on locking him up for the long-term, even though he was two years away from arbitration. That says a lot about the player the D-backs expect Goldschmidt to be this year and beyond.

“I think they believe in all the players here,” Goldschmidt said. “They’re trying to build a team here that’s going to win this year but win for the future as well.”

Goldschmidt is undoubtedly a cornerstone of that building plan. Manager Kirk Gibson offers tempered expectations of Goldschmidt’s 2013 season — ” I would expect Goldy to be consistent in what he’s done,” Gibson said. But, the consensus, at least externally, seems to be that he’ll improve on his 2012 season, in which he hit .286 with a .359 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 82 RBI and 20 home runs.

The D-backs will probably need increased production from Goldschmidt in order to compete in the NL West this season. With Justin Upton and Chris Young gone, the D-backs will lean heavily on Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill and Jason Kubel for offensive production through the middle of the order, though Gibson says it won’t matter if the D-backs are finding other ways to win.

“If Goldy hits .220 and we win a world championship, you think he’ll care?” Gibson said. “I know I won’t. If you get too obsessed with your own statistics as an individual, it works against you.”

Goldschmidt said he doesn’t spend much time thinking about his statistics. He does, however, spend a good deal of time critiquing his defense, another area in which the D-backs expect him to be a stalwart.
“He was kind of critical of his defense recently,” Gibson said. “I do think when Goldy plays more, his defense gets better.”

As much as evaluators inside and outside the organization expect Goldschmidt to make another leap this season, he insists he doesn’t really think about such things.

Instead, Goldschmidt maintains a quiet confidence alongside a get-better-every-day attitude that’s often regarded as one of the biggest clichés in baseball. But Goldschmidt has been consistent in his humble approach and drive to keep improving, as obvious as the notion may sound.

Basically, he doesn’t expect anything to just happen. He knows it’s on him to put the work in if he wants to take a place among baseball’s rising stars.

“A lot of people have had one good year or year and a half,” Goldschmidt said. “The saying goes ‘It’s easy to get here, tough to stay.’ Guys are always trying to make adjustments, and the past is the past.

“You want to continue to get better, hopefully improve every year, but it’s a tough game. Guys forget that. You think ‘Oh, I’ve had one good year and now I put in the work in the offseason, so this next good year is just going to come.’ That’s not really how it works.”

Goldschmidt also knows that even when you put in the work, it’s not a predictor of results. Balls can get hit hard right at defenders. Calls can go against you. Pitchers can avoid pitching to you.

“A lot of this stuff’s out of your control, and you just prepare yourself to do the best you can,” Goldschmidt said. “Obviously the goal is to get better every year, but it’s not going to happen just because.”

So what about Goldschmidt’s ceiling?  It’s hard to say so early in his career, but he’s off to a good start. Comparing young players to active or retired ones can be unfair — just ask Gibson, who was dubbed by Sparky Anderson early on as “the next Mickey Mantle” — but statistics (via through age 24 offer a few names that should inspire optimism. The first two: Adrian Gonzalez and Ike Davis. Geoff Jenkins is also on the list.

And through roughly 200 games, Goldschmidt’s numbers compare favorably to legendary Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, whom Goldschmidt idolized (among other Astros) growing up in Houston.

“His numbers are unbelievable, so if you’re going to say that’s what’s going to happen (for me), I’ll be the happiest guy on the planet,” Goldschmidt said, laughing. “But I just think for anyone to say that is not realizing how hard this game is, and you never know what’s going to happen going forward.”

The D-backs have been careful to avoid any such comparisons, but their interest in a long-term contract speaks for itself.

“We just want him to be consistent and go out and play the game the way he plays it,” Gibson said. “I don’t really look at it as a numbers things. I look at it as a collective effort and a collective result.

“He’s got a plan, he sticks with his plan, he gives you good at-bats, give you good effort on the bases, gives you good effort in the field. And he’s a good teammate. What more can you say?”