And now for some unfortunate news for the rest of the National League:
Troy Tulowitzki, a superstar on a career-year path, is not done improving. Not the player he still imagines he can be, not content with being what most already consider the best all-around shortstop in baseball.
Tulowitzki is currently hurting baseballs all over the country. He went into Tuesday’s game against the Dodgers leading the NL in batting average (.355), runs (55), slugging (.662) and on-base (.447) percentages, and is second in home runs (18) and third in runs batted in (45).
Think of it as a mere warmup.
“I feel I’m not a finished product,” Tulowitzki said. “I still have room to improve and get better. I’m not satisfied. I’m always trying to work to be a better player.”
It might be best to take what he says seriously. This was a kid who grew up in the Silicon Valley region with posters of Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez on his bedroom wall, dreaming of being a big league shortstop.
And then went undrafted out of high school.
He went to Long Beach State — “The best thing to ever happen to me” — continued to work hard, reinvented himself in the eyes of scouts and three years later was a first-round pick of the Rockies.
“That tells you a lot about his mentality,” Colorado Manager Walt Weiss said. “I could see it if a pitcher adds three or four inches and all of a sudden he’s throwing 95. But with a position player to not be drafted out of high school as a shortstop? And then to be a first-round pick three years later? You can read between the lines there.”
There’s been no stopping Tulowitzki since, unless you count injuries. He’s been a sensation since his rookie season, when he started on Colorado’s 2007 World Series team.
Despite injuries that have starters Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer on the disabled list, along with three-fifths of the Colorado rotation (Jordan Lyles, Tyler Chatwood, Brett Anderson), Tulowitzki’s play has helped the Rockies hang around the NL West. They were only three games back of the Dodgers before Tuesday.
“It’s been tough as far as injuries,” he said. “But we’re trying to hang in there until these guys get back. And then hopefully we’ll go on a roll.”
If it happens, it probably will be led by the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Tulowitzki. Most shortstops his size are encouraged to find a new position. It’s assumed they’re too big to cover the required ground, not athletic enough to make the needed plays.
Weiss was a 6-foot, 175-pound shortstop who played in the majors for 14 years.
“The way he moves around with that body is uncanny,” Weiss said. “You don’t see a shortstop that size, moving around like that. I mean, he moves around like we did in the day of the 5-11 and 170-pound shortstops. He moves like that at 6-3, 215.
“And he’s one of the best hitters in all of baseball.”
Dodgers third base coach Lorenzo Bundy, who has known Tulowitzki for years, gave him the ultimate compliment.
“If I wasn’t in this game, he’s one of the few players I would pay to watch play,” Bundy said.
Former Dodgers infielder Eric Young, now a coach with the Rockies, said Tulowitzki’s play is not simply some gift from the baseball heavens.
“The most impressive thing to know about Troy is, he’s the hardest-working player on this team,” Young said. “Without a doubt. Every day. He does not miss his routine. He’s one of the first to the ballpark — every day. He takes care of his body, eats well, does everything he needs to do every day to be the best player in the game — period.”
Tulowitzki is 29 and in the prime of his career. He became a father for the first time in the off-season. He currently leads all NL players in the All-Star voting. Life is good, it’s just that he wants more.
“He’s one of the most driven players I’ve ever been around,” Weiss said. “And I’ve been around some of the best of our time. He’s driven to be great and he has a burning desire to win.”
His 10-year, $157.75-million contract takes him through the 2020 season, so he’s not ready to peak.
“This is probably the best I’ve been as far as a complete player,” Tulowitzki said. “But I think I can be better. And when you talk to a good player, I think they all kind of say that same thing.”