Goldschmidt's success belies his inexperience
CHICAGO -- From the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field on Sunday, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt recalled his whirlwind experience at the 2011 All-Star Futures Games in Phoenix a little more than a year ago. He had hardly a moment to himself and little idea then that he would be back in Phoenix as a major leaguer three weeks later.
Much has happened for Goldschmidt and the D-backs since then -- so much that casual observers might forget that the slugging 24-year-old has yet to play a full major league season. Even Goldschmidt, with just 125 big league games under his belt, feels like he's been around much longer.
"There's been a lot going on, especially with the playoffs last year and everything," Goldschmidt said. "At times you're like, 'I can't believe a year ago I still hadn't made my debut or anything.' There's a lot of memories you create, whether it's your big league debut, first hit, first home run, then obviously clinching and going to the playoffs."
Perhaps it's Goldschmidt's impact in that brief span that's made him seem like a mainstay. In 48 games last season, Goldschmidt drove in 26 runs and socked eight home runs while adjusting on the fly as the team's new everyday first baseman straight out of Double-A. And few could forget his grand slam in the National League Division Series that helped the D-backs stave off elimination for one more game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
"The grand slam was fun," Goldschmidt said. "But national TV and all, I think that's why it gets more noticed."
Goldschmidt said that grand slam off Shaun Marcum ranks in his mind somewhere behind his clinching the NL West last year and making his big league debut on Aug. 1. For all Goldschmidt has seen and done in 11 months, though, he has much to experience still.
Friday's series opener with the Chicago Cubs marked the first time Goldschmidt had ever played at historic Wrigley Field -- or even been to Chicago, for that matter. He has still played in only half the stadiums in the majors, with three in the NL left to experience, including Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where the D-backs open a four-game series Monday (the others: Busch Stadium and PNC Park).
Goldschmidt's success in the majors so far belies his youth. He entered play Sunday hitting .304 with 12 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .369 on-base percentage -- one of the best lines among all D-backs hitters and enough for many to contend he should have played in last week's All-Star Game.
Those numbers are due in large part to a big turnaround since April 30. He was hitting .185 at the time with one home run and more strikeouts (18) than hits (11) but has since hit .335 with a .397 OBP and a 1.018 OPS, fifth best in the majors during that span.
That first month, though, was an indication that the league is starting to get better acquainted with the young slugger.
"It's his second season; people probably figured him out and tried to do some things differently on him," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He had to make some adjustments."
Added Goldschmidt: "There's always an adjustment here, even guys who have been around a while. Every pitcher has their plan, and obviously I have my plan as a hitter. The adjustments are definitely daily and even during (at-bats).
"Whether you have a good day or go 0 for 4, you can always take something from it and try to learn."
Gibson praised Goldschmidt's adjustment so far, though he said the process will certainly continue. He also lauded Goldschmidt's ability to handle criticism amid his early-season struggles and added that critics are often hasty in their assessments.
"I don’t think people understand fully what it takes to be consistent at this level," Gibson said. "And certainly, when you're young, you've got a lot to learn. Certainly when you're old you've got a lot to learn. When I retired I was 38 and I studied my tail off every day."
That sounds a lot like what Goldschmidt's doing now. His defense on Friday and Saturday provided a perfect example of his ongoing development. On Friday, he was charged with an error when he dropped the ball while tagging a passing runner, allowing him the base. But on Saturday, Goldschmidt displayed his defensive best when he backhanded a bouncing ball a ways off first base and sprawled out for a dive back to the bag to beat the runner.
"It's always a learning process," Goldschmidt said. "Every day you continue to try to learn, whether it's defensively, base running, obviously hitting."
Goldschmidt's sponge-like nature shows through when he describes the sequence of events surrounding that Futures Game at Chase Field, where he'd soon man first base on a full-time basis. He had to fly back to Mobile, Ala., the next morning for a home game with the Mississippi Braves. He arrived at 2 p.m. and headed straight to the park for 3 p.m. batting practice.
All the memories, lessons and experiences Goldschmidt has absorbed leave little room for him to wonder how fans, media or other players might perceive him. But thinking back a year to the day, Goldschmidt can recall just where he was and how he fared ("I struggled a little bit") and be humbled by how far he's come in such a short time.
"I don’t know what other people think," Goldschmidt said. "I just know a year ago I was in Mobile. Well, technically I was in Chattanooga -- we were on the road. You've always got to remember this is a tough game, and I'm lucky to be here right now."