Acquired: Trade w/LAA, 11/2213
Player Profile & Career Summary
Selected right before Mike Trout in the 2009 draft? Check.
Hates bases on balls with a passion? Check.
Strikes out enough to turn pitchers into full on fascists? Well....more on that in a bit.
Walking, cleated M.A.S.H. unit? Yup.
That's not the whole story, folks. There's more to it. VEB exclusive Grichuk facts:
For instance, did you know that Grichuk once went into full-on beast mode during the Little League World Series?
(Start at the 1:05 mark)
Did you know that his adjustments in the batters box prior to the 2013 season will probably make TPG vomit on his shoes? (Video not available)
To ready himself for the challenge, Grichuk is now using a leg kick in the batter's box.
"I tried mastering that in the offseason," he said. "My hitting coach in the Fall League [Phil Clark] said I had more of a linear swing, so he felt like I'd have more adjustability to the breaking ball or any off-speed pitches with having a more rotational swing. He wanted to implement that for my backside, to get more out of my legs.
"I like it. I'm getting my timing down -- it's hard to do a leg kick. You'll see me off-balance a few times, but I'll get it down."
So here we have a player with good power, average contact, and terrible plate discipline using a leg kick to get his swing started and talking about getting his "timing down". I wonder if he's fallen down while swinging in the process of making this adjustment, considering how poor his pitch recognition is.
Grichuk's above average tool is his power: 57 XBH in 542 PA's in AA a year ago, and that was playing his home games in the only park in the Texas League that depresses slugging, specifically home runs. This shows up loud and clear in his splits, with 16 of his home runs coming on the road, similar to the splits from big league sluggers like Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo in their time playing at Dickey-Stevens Park.
He makes solid contact but has a tendency to fly open on his swing, which you can see at the at the 30 second mark in this video when he nearly kills his teammate:
This is pre-leg kick and you can see that he has more of an open stance that closes during his stride. He's fooled on that pitch he fouls off down the line and is way out in front. This is an all-to-often occurrence for Grichuck: Scouts go on and on about his inability to recognize pitches, leaving him vulnerable to good breaking balls, which induce him to roll over on ground balls to the left side.
The strikeout stuff, to me, is a bit overblown -- he's actually struck out just slightly more in his minor league career (17.6% of the time) as Jon Jay did (16.7%) and we don't recognize Jay as someone who strikes out a lot, quite the opposite actually. The lack of walks are a significant problem: 4.4% for his minor league career, and pitchers at the lower levels of the minors aren't exactly known for their control. You have to work really hard as a hitter to not walk at least 5% of the time in A and A+.
Randal Grichuk is your prototypical aggressive fastball hitter and he can really hurt you if you throw him fastballs in hitter's counts. Pitchers at AA and AAA have better command of their secondary pitches and find fewer and fewer instances of needing to throw fastball strikes, especially to an aggressive hitter who will chase pitches out of the zone rather than taking a walk.
Grichuk is a plus outfielder in one of the corner spots and has the arm to make a go of it in RF where he won a Texas League Gold Glove in 2013. The issue is whether his bat can play there. John Mozeliak has all but made it clear that the Cardinals are going to use the first part of the 2014 season to let him prove he can play CF. Coming out of high school, most scouts felt he was destined for the corner outfield, but his jumps and routes to the ball have improved considerably the last two seasons when he's been healthy.
We know he's starting the year as the CF in Memphis, Mo has said as much. Will his plate discipline develop? Can he continue to make enough good contact the make his above average power usable? That's what you should watch because that's how Grichuk develops into the CF of the future in St. Louis. Worst case, he's a 4th outfielder that can play anywhere in the outfield defensively against left handed pitching (.309/.347/.547 in his minor league career against LHP). The best case scenario for the Cardinals is that Mike O'Neill's magic batting eye rubs off a bit.
I wouldn't call him a "top prospect", those guys don't get traded as part of a deal for an arbitration eligible third baseman on the wrong side of 30. But there's a lot of tools to like here if he can figure out how to take a walk or two and lay off breaking pitches outside the strike zone. He's still young, he's still toolsy, and those guys nearly always have some value to somebody. I just wouldn't expect to get more than an arb-eligible reliever for him all by himself.
It's just so rare for a hitter who has the problems Grichuk has (pitch recognition, free swinger, below average LD%) to be able to overcome them. Not that it doesn't happen, but the guys who do generally have above average hit tools and much better contact rates than Grichuk. I think he spends the whole year at Memphis flashing his power but hitting .250 while his strikeout rate climbs up around 22-25% when facing some better pitching.