The island of Curacao in the south Caribbean is home to 142,000 residents. Curacao is actually part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which has a total population of over 17 million, 98 percent of whom live in Europe. But in recent years, Curacao has also become known for its baseball. Longtime Atlanta Braves star centerfielder Andruw Jones was the first well-know Major League player from Curacao, and since his arrival and success in the big leagues, many others have followed. Just last week, players from Curacao playing for Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic helped eliminate traditional power Cuba from the event as the Netherlands advanced to the championship round.
The 2009 Dragons roster included starting pitcher J.C. Sulbaran, who was born and raised in Curacao before moving to Florida during high school. Sulbaran returned to the Dragons in 2010 and was joined in Dayton by another native of Curacao, shortstop Mariekson "Didi" Gregorius. Two players from a Carribbean island with a population the size of Clark County became key members of the Dayton Dragons. And almost exactly two years after he played his final game in Dayton, Gregorius became the 56th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
Gregorius came from a baseball family. He was born in Amsterdam because his father was pitching for a team there in 1990. Didi played for the Dutch team in the 2009 Baseball World Cup, and his father and brother also played in the same event that year for the Netherland Antilles. By that time, he was already a member of the Reds organization, having signed as an international free agent with Cincinnati in 2007 at the age of 17.
Gregorius came out of spring training in 2009 as the Dragons everyday shortstop and spent virtually the entire season in Dayton. He was regarded as a strong big league prospect even before the season began, rated by Baseball America as the #15 prospect in the Reds farm system. Though rather wiry at that time (listed at 6'1", 152 lbs.), Gregorius possessed one of the strongest arms of any infielder to pass through the Midwest League in years. Baseball America's Prospect Handbook referred to his arm as a "cannon" and went on to say that "in a system stocked with shortstops, his ceiling is matched only by Billy Hamilton."
Gregorius collected four hits on opening night for the Dragons in 2010 and got off to an outstanding first couple of weeks with the team. After 10 games, he was batting .326. He cooled down in late April but remained fairly consistent all season. From June 1 until the end of the year, his batting average with the Dragons remained between .263 and .286. He finished at .273 and though he hit only five home runs, he did provide 16 doubles, 11 triples, and 16 stolen bases. He was selected in a poll of Midwest League managers as the league's "infielder with the best arm."
Gregorius moved on to Bakersfield in 2011 and though he got a late start to the season due to illness, he excelled once he got on the field. In 46 games for the Blaze, he batted .303. He moved up to Double-A Carolina for the final six weeks of the season and hit .270 there. Following the season, he played for the Dutch national team that won the World Cup. Baseball America moved him up to the #8 prospect in the Reds organization.
Gregorius started the 2012 season back in Double-A with the Reds new affiliate in Pensacola. Interestingly, his progress was closely monitored for multiple reasons. Fans wondered when Gregorius would move up to Triple-A, not only to continue his own progression toward the big leagues, but also to open a spot in Double-A for Hamilton, who had become the most talked-about prospect in Minor League Baseball. Gregorius was promoted to Louisville after the midpoint of the season, batting .278 with Pensacola.
In his 48 games with Louisville after the promotion, Gregorius hit just .243, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm for his future. He was playing excellent defense and holding his own as a Triple-A hitter at the age of 22. In September, the Reds promoted Gregorius to the big leagues. He made his Major League debut on September 5 vs. the Phillies. His best game with the Reds came September 16 when he collected three hits and drove in a run in a Reds 5-4 win over Miami. He hit .300 in eight games for the Reds as he tasted his first cup of coffee in the Major Leagues.
While Gregorius was generating attention as a solid prospect in Triple-A, former Dragon Zack Cozart was playing well as the Reds starter at shortstop, giving the club a surplus of talent at the position. Baseball America moved Gregorius up to the Reds #5 prospect after the 2012 season and noted that he "ultimately may end up as a trade chip." That is exactly what happened.
On December 11, 2012, Gregorius was included in a three-team trade that brought outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds from Cleveland. The deal sent former Dragon Drew Stubbs to the Indians, and Gregorius ended up with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Though he may need more seasoning in the minors, Gregorius appears to be in line for the eventual longterm starting job with the Diamondbacks. He was the 56th Dragons player in the Major Leagues. Next up: Pedro Villarreal.
Click here for Didi Gregorius' Major League statistics, photos, and video highlights.
Click here for Didi Gregorius' Minor League statistics.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.