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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees follows through on an eighth inning run scoring sacrifice fly against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on September 10, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Cockrell: Didi’s power surge no fluke

Having a strong core up the middle is essential when building a successful team.  Although one wouldn’t expect the primary power to come from a double-play combo, it’s exactly what the New York Yankees received from Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. For the first time in franchise history, the shortstop and second baseman duo clocked more than 20 home runs each.

For Gregorius, known for his rocket arm, his 20 home runs represented a career high in 2016.

Not many saw the power surge coming from Didi, except his hitting coach Alan Cockrell.

“I saw Didi’s power last year even before it happened,” said Cockrell on the power jump from Gregorius’ previous high of nine home runs in 2015.

The Yankees’ hitting coach also credited the quick swing of his young shortstop, “I think he’s always had bat speed and leverage,” said Cockrell. “Last year he was able to shorten his swing and get the barrel to where it needed to be and he’s always behind the baseball and puts himself in a good position to hit.”

There’s no doubt about Gregorius’ penchant for swinging the stick. The Netherlands-born shortstop posted the sixth highest swing rate, 26th lowest strikeout rate and the third lowest walk rate in 2016. Not wanting to fall behind, ten of his home runs came with a 0-1 count and 13 left the yard with the count even. With Didi last season it was “pick your poison” when he swatted 16 of his home runs against right-handed pitchers and batted .320 against left-handers.

His short and quick approach as a “bad ball” hitter, enables Gregorius to spoil pitches and work pitchers to the point where he can pull the trigger and launch the long ball. In addition to the career-best 20 home runs, Didi slashed a career-high 32 doubles and posted a slugging percentage of .447 with an OPS of .751.

If you believe Cockrell and others in the Yankee organization, Gregorius’ pop is anything but a fluke. At age 26, Didi’s first 20 home run season came a year after Derek Jeter hit the 20 home run plateau, hammering 24 in 1999 at age 25. In addition to Jeter, Gregorius joined an exclusive club of Yankee shortstops to hit the 20 mark, along with Tom Tresh and Roy Smalley.

Hitting his prime, it looks as though Didi’s power numbers will continue to reach new heights in 2017 and beyond.