Drury reunites with mentor Tulowitzki after trade to Blue Jays


Former Toronto Blue Jays infielder Brandon Drury. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

SEATTLE – Brandon Drury showed lots of promise as a freshman on the Grants Pass High School baseball team in Oregon, which is why head coach Brian Datte suggested his young infielder attend an off-season camp run by Troy Tulowitzki. Datte had coached the star shortstop at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, Calif., before moving up the Pacific Coast, and had told his former player about a 14-year-old who had a chance to be pretty good.

Tulowitzki took note, paid extra attention to the hard-hitting infielder and has tracked his progress ever since. “It was cool, especially a guy like Tulo, who works as hard as he does and loves the game and plays it the right way,” says Drury. “We’ve been talking ever since and built a friendship. I’m lucky to have him as a mentor.”

A decade later, they’re now teammates on the Toronto Blue Jays, Drury’s recent acquisition from the New York Yankees along with outfielder Billy McKinney for starter J.A. Happ putting them in the same jersey. The two friends reconnected in person for the first time since the trade last week when Tulowitzki, still rehabbing after surgery on both heels, met up with his teammates at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

They did early work in the infield together, Tulowitzki pausing at points to tweak Drury’s technique, went to the cage together, and talked hitting as they sat together in adjacent locker stalls.

“I like guys who put in work and he does that,” says Tulowitzki. “He’s out here doing early work all the time, in the cage. He loves the game, man. You can never go wrong with a guy like that so I love that about him. I’ve followed his career, there have been some obstacles in his way, but you get tougher because of that and it’s a good opportunity for him here. Hopefully he makes the most of it.”

Drury’s start with the Blue Jays has been a slow one with only four hits in his first eight games since coming over, although two of them came in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Seattle Mariners. The 25-year-old is trying to rescue a season that’s been stunted by migraines that have limited him to only 26 games between the Blue Jays and Yankees and a .169/.256/.260 slash line.

He’s been a productive player in the past despite some vision issues, posting an OPS of .786 in 2016 and .764 in 2017 while playing all over the field for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and general manager Ross Atkins bet on his upside in obtaining him for Happ.

In many ways Drury is still finding himself as a player, in part because the natural third baseman has had to play multiple defensive positions, in part because he’s still developing as a hitter.

“I don’t know,” he replies when asked what kind of hitter he is. “I feel like I have so much more to show as a hitter, as who I am, than I’ve shown yet in the big leagues. So I’m not sure yet. I’ve got keep working and really find out who I really am as a hitter.”

No matter who he ends up becoming at the plate, Drury certainly isn’t going to cheat himself out of the opportunity to maximize his tools.

A 13th-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in the 2010 draft, Drury became known for his single-minded determination to reach the big leagues, a trait he shares with Tulowitzki. His path the majors was altered on Jan. 24, 2013, when he was traded to Arizona along with four other players for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson and it was there he started moving around the infield.

In a 2014 story in the Arizona Republic, one of Drury’s teammates at double-A Mobile, pitcher Braden Shipley, told the newspaper that the team would joke around with Drury and call him “Dru-lo” because of his similarities to the then Colorado Rockies icon nicknamed Tulo.

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Drury debuted in the majors in September 2015 and established himself as a utilityman in 2016, when he played 89 games in the outfield, 29 at third, 16 at second base and an inning at first base while hitting 16 home runs. It was during that season he picked up golf as a hobby and Diamondbacks hitting coach Dave Magadan would encourage him to hit the driving range in the mornings before games rather than obsess about baseball.

“Me and Magadan would joke around that I need to go golf if I wasn’t hitting because I’d gotten so hot and I was golfing every day at the time,” says Drury. “Maybe it’s something I need to get back into.”

In 2017, Drury played primarily at second base with a handful of contests at third before being part of a Feb. 20 trade that sent him to the Yankees as part of a three-way swap that landed old Blue Jays nemesis Steven Souza Jr. in the desert.

Things went sideways with the migraines and he’s been looking to regain his footing since.

“I’m very hard on myself but I know that’s why I got to the big leagues at such a young age,” says Drury. “Being a low-round draft pick that was just kind of overlooked the whole way, because I didn’t sign for a lot of money, that work ethic is what got me here quicker than most. That’s just who I am.

“It would probably be good for me to give myself a break once in a while, but that’s kind of how I’m wired. I want to be great every day. That’s what it’s about, trying to get better and be the best player you can be.”

It’s a mindset his longtime mentor, friend and now teammate approves of.

“When you’re getting tossed around and you’re not getting starts you start saying, ‘Hey, am I good enough to be a big-leaguer?’ You ask guys that played against him in the minor leagues, they say he’s one of the best players each in every year in his league but you’ve got to do it in the big leagues. Once you do that, you gain confidence and then the sky is the limit,” says Tulowitzki. “He wants to be really good in this game. He has the potential, but a lot of people do. Hopefully he can put it all together and carve out a nice career for himself.”

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