Player Preview: Stephen Drew
One of the perhaps underrated pieces to the Washington Nationals’ infield repair job is none other than Stephen Drew.
Signed in early January to a one-year, $3 million deal carrying up to $1.25 million in incentives, Drew represents insurance for the Nats, a team known for battling multiple injury bug outbreaks year after year.
That’s not to forget Drew’s own gruesome battle with injury recovery. There was that fateful day of July 21, 2011, on which the only thing more gut-wrenching then the direction Drew’s ankle bent on a slide into home plate was the manner in which he instinctively pulled said ankle back into place.
Before that day, Drew was often mentioned in the same breath as the phrase “among the top shortstops in the game.” Sure, his big-market competition earned the spotlight most days. But, his seven years with the Arizona Diamondbacks – otherwise known as his pre-injury years – amounted to a .266/.328/.436 slash line, 72 home runs, and 33 stolen bases.
The good news for Nats fans is that Drew has shown signs of slow, but steady, improvement. Entering what will be his 11th season in the Majors, the just-turned 33-year-old still shows signs of life from time to time, and he can still represents an asset in the field.
In 2015, Drew’s batting average saw a 14-point uptick to .201, even though he made nearly twice as many appearances at the plate as he did the prior year. While a .201 batting average hardly separates Drew from the Mendoza Line, of greater importance is the fact that Drew tallied 17 home runs in the same season: a season in which he earned – rather, lucked into – the most playing time he has seen since 2013.
Whether or not Drew will miss hitting at Yankee Stadium has yet to be determined. But, the Yankees have already committed one favor for the Nationals – they tried Drew at both shortstop and second base and proved he can handle both. And, perhaps more for amusement than anything else, the Nats also gave Drew his first-ever shot at first base this spring.
His stint at first base alone should prove that spring can’t be seen as a direct indicator of what’s to come. But, it’s still encouraging that Drew has a .333/.440/.429 slash line this spring, as of publication. In 25 plate appearances, Drew has seven hits – including two doubles – seven RBIs, three runs scored, and four walks – all against Triple-A-caliber pitching, per Baseball Reference.
While it’s all but guaranteed that either Danny Espinosa or Trea Turner will win the starting shortstop role, Drew represents a solid option in the utility role, and that can’t be overlooked as question marks still linger.
Drew could also lead in another key area for the Nats: the clubhouse. His humble appreciation for the game – and his firsthand knowledge of how an injury can alter one’s career trajectory – could prove invaluable to a team that boasts so many strong personalities.