April 29, 2014
The Situation: With the Cardinals offense continuing to struggle, posting just a .242 batting average to date, the club made some moves looking for a spark. Calling up Greg Garcia and Randal Grichuk could give the Cardinals the boost they need to get their offense rolling in support of a pitching staff that has posted a cumulative 2.76 ERA through the season’s first 26 games.
Background: Possibly known better for being the player the Angels took one pick before popping Mike Trout, Grichuk was a legitimate first-round selection in his own right. After raking in the Arizona League in 2009 and 2010, Grichuk kept right on hitting after a promotion to Low-A Cedar Rapids, posting a .292 average in 52 games during his first full-season experience. Grichuk battled injuries in 2011, and then put up a California League-bolstered .298/.335/.488 line in 135 games, as he regained his prospect stock in 2012. The 2013 season saw Grichuk struggle at times, as he garnered his first exposure to higher-level pitching. In the end, Grichuk managed to pop 22 home runs and rip 27 doubles en route to a .780 OPS with Double-A Arkansas. An off-season trade sent Grichuk to the Cardinals in exchange for third baseman David Freese, and in his first 21 Triple-A games, Grichuk has hit .310 with eight doubles and three home runs.
Scouting Report: Grichuk is an intense player who plays with a reckless abandon that many managers and scouts love to see in a young prospect. He is a quality athlete with the tools to be a good player even without that aggressiveness, but his game plays up a touch because of the approach.
At the plate, Grichuk’s aggressiveness can get the better of him, as he swings early and often, and frequently chases breaking stuff out of the strike zone. When he remains patient, Grichuk can drive the ball to all fields and has the ability to hit the ball out of the park. He has enough bat speed to handle quality velocity and, over the last two years, his ability to hit breaking balls in the zone has improved. All told, his hit tool projects below-average, but it may still be enough for him to pop 10-12 home runs with regular playing time.
Though Grichuk has been playing mostly center field in Triple-A, he does not profile well at the position long term. His speed doesn’t play to an average level, even once underway, and while his instincts and effort can overcome some of that, he fits much better in right field than up the middle. His arm is above-average and accurate, and he can help prevent runners from taking an extra base.
Overall, Grichuk profiles as more of a second-division whose defense is inadequate for center field and who lacks the overall offensive profile to be a regular in a corner. He has the attitude, intensity, and tools to succeed in a part-time role, particularly one in which most of his at-bats come against left-handed pitching.
Immediate Big-League Future: Grichuk will get plenty of playing time in St. Louis right out of the gate as the club looks for any spark it can find. Grichuk’s results are not likely to jump off the page, as he will have to adapt his aggressive approach against major-league arms. As June approaches—and the associated Super Two deadline—Grichuk could be overcome by the arrival of the Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: He was picked before Trout so he has to be at least as good, right? Okay, fine, we’ll let the narrative die.
Grichuk is no Trout, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful. At the same time, he might not be useful just yet. He was slashing .313/.356/.542 at Triple-A as a 22-year-old. The last figure in the slash line is most interesting from our standpoint. Grichuk isn’t likely to hit for that type of average at the major-league level, and as is obvious, he’s not much for watching pitches go by. When he does swing though, he does so with intent. He has natural lift in his swing and drives the ball well. General manager John Mozeliak was non-committal about playing time, saying that neither Grichuk nor fellow call-up Greg Garcia would be an everyday player.
To that end, Grichuk is someone to monitor rather than add. He’s got some pop and could be useful if he’s getting a full slate of at-bats as a low OBP, moderate power source in the outfield. Without those at-bats though, we can’t count on him for anything just yet. Expect him to be used on the short side of the platoon for right now, and get more at-bats if he can make the most of those opportunities. —Craig Goldstein
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark