On Tuesday afternoon, recent baseball retiree Carlos Beltran joined the Players’ Tribune’s R2C2 podcast with Ryan Ruocco and CC Sabathia to reflect on his time with the Yankees and the World Series champion Houston Astros as a veteran leader in the clubhouse. Here are some highlights from the episode, which can be accessed in full by clicking on the audio player below.
Beltran told newcomer Didi Gregorius he wasn’t replacing No. 2
When the Yankees bid farewell to Derek Jeter during the 2014 offseason and acquired a young work-in-progress shortstop in Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the franchise made a conscious effort to discard the lofty expectations that a 24-year-old was going to immediately pick up where the future Hall-of-Famer had left off.
To drive that message home, Beltran, who was a 38-year-old veteran with the Yankees at the time, spoke to Gregorius before the 2015 season began.
“Didi’s a great guy. He’s a fast learner,” Beltran said. “I remember when we first got him, spring training, he showed up and he was close to my locker. And the first thing that I said to him, I said, ‘Didi, I know there’s going to be a lot of expectations here. But the most important thing right now for you is to understand that the only shoes that you have to fill are your own shoes.’ Because, you know, Jeter leaving.
“What Jeter did for this organization… I mean, an amazing player, amazing talent, great person, great friend. And I tell him, ‘The only shoes you have to fill are your own shoes and only worry about that. Forget about everything else. You’re not here to replace anyone. You’re here to be Didi Gregorius, to play your game, to get better every year.’ And he took it to his heart. I got to see him really improve, and I was like, ‘Wow, man. This guy’s making plays, coming through lefty against lefties in tough situations.’ Very proud of him.”
Beltran also helped Gregorius become a lefty-hitting specialist
Prior to joining the Yankees, Gregorius wasn’t known for success against left-handed pitching. But in 2016, he was unflappable against southpaws, slashing .324/.361/.473 with 10 doubles, four home runs, and 24 RBI in 161 plate appearances. On the podcast, Ryan Ruocco mentioned a conversation he had with Gregorius during spring training, and how his success at the plate was in credit to advice given to him by Beltran.
“He tells me it started with a conversation with Carlos Beltran,” Ruocco recalls. “[Gregorius] says, ‘Carlos told me, look, when you’re facing a lefty, if there’s a breaking ball — any kind of breaking ball — and it looks like it’s going to hit you, stay in there, cause it’s probably going to be over the plate. When you’re facing a lefty and he throws a breaking ball and it’s over the center of the plate, don’t swing because that thing’s going to be a ball.'”
Although Beltran never faced left-handers as a switch-hitter, he confirmed Ruocco’s story, explaining how he used to set up pitching machines in places that would help him improve any weaknesses in his swing or approach.
Beltran took Aaron Judge under his wing during spring training
Beltran’s stint in New York came to an end during the 2016 trade deadline, when he was dealt to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Dillon Tate and two other prospects. But earlier that year, while the team was training in Tampa, Fla., Beltran offered to advise another up-and-coming player, and former manager Joe Girardi assigned him their highly-touted outfielder Aaron Judge.
“In spring training, I asked Joe Girardi if you have some younger guy that you think I can help in the time that I’m going to be here… Joe said ‘OK, I’m going to put Judge next to you,'” Beltran said. “And Judge was super humble, very kind, soft spoken, always asking good questions. He wanted to learn. He understood that he had an ability and a talent that he could do what he did last year. He was having difficulties early in his career with his swing, mechanics. He found somebody to help him out and what he did was incredible.
“He’s humble. He’s a great human being. Honestly, another guy that I’m very proud of is him. The way he’s handled everything. He’s a real person. He’s not for the cameras. He’s a good soul and he cares about his teammates. He cares about winning, he cares about being a good person, he cares about representing the organization the right way.”
Beltran also believes that Judge can sustain his 2017 numbers, which helped him win the American League Rookie of the Year award.
“He’s going to be a consistent player,” Beltran said of Judge. “You don’t do that by luck. You don’t hit 50 [home runs] by luck. You hit 50 because you have an ability, you have talent. He went through a bad stretch and he learned from that. When he was going through that moment, he wanted to do more. You have to understand that in baseball, less is more. I think this year’s going to be great.”
The Yanks’ best hitter? Not Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, according to Beltran
“To me, [Gary] Sanchez is the best hitter. To me he is,” Beltran said. “I think sometimes you get caught up in the homers. I wish he didn’t get caught up in hitting homers. If he could get caught up in doing what he did in the minor leagues — being a consistent hitter, hitting the ball to right field when you have to, pulling the ball when he’s pitched inside, and hit the homers when somebody leaves the ball right down the middle — and understanding that his role will be a good defender. Because hitting is there for him. He’s going to hit.
“He’s a big dude. For me, if I’m the Yankees, you know what I would do? Try to put him in contact with [Jorge] Posada. Posada was a big dude… Bring him to spring training. Make him work with him. They both speak Spanish. Put those guys together. Let them create a relationship. And they don’t have to be on the same team. But by you making that bridge of connection, now Sanchez will feel, ‘OK, I can call Posada any time I feel like I’m off defensively.’ That’s the beauty of the Yankees. The Yankees have so many resources.”
Beltran appreciated his interview for the Yankees’ managerial opening
Following the Yankees’ loss to the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS this past October, the franchise elected to part ways with Joe Girardi, who managed the club to 10 consecutive winning seasons. In doing so, New York searched for a new skipper, and after a prolonged process of interviewing select candidates for the job, former ESPN broadcaster Aaron Boone was awarded the position.
Beltran was less than a month removed from the game when the Yankees called him in for an interview, but he called it an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
“It was a great experience. I have a lot of respect for the organization,” Beltran said. “I have a lot of respect for [Brian] Cashman. I just retired from the game and I got the call to be interviewed. I felt in my heart that I gave them everything I had. They know I have a passion for the game of baseball, but at the same time, I understand it’s a business. They felt that Boone was the best candidate and I wish Boone the best. I think he has a great team, a great opportunity. I couldn’t say no to that opportunity. Those type of jobs don’t come very often.”
Beltran told Ruocco and Sabathia that he eventually wants to return to the game in some fashion, but in retrospect, he’s excited to spend an entire year with his family in the United States and Puerto Rico, his native country which was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September.
“Honestly, [managing] was something that I wanted to do, but I didn’t think it was going to be that fast, for me to interview,” Beltran said. “So I wasn’t really super prepared. I went there, like, naked… I got a call after Cashman ended up hiring Boone, like two weeks after. He said, ‘Carlos, we would love to have you with us.’ And honestly, after retiring from the game of baseball and being able to play 20 years, I told them I wanted to take a break. I wanted to really take a full year off.
“But in the future, I don’t want to say that I don’t want to be back in the game. I feel like I have a lot to contribute. I love the game. The only thing that I wasn’t loving anymore was the preparation to play the game. But I love to be around the guys, to share the knowledge, to see the guys grinding. I love that.”