Sometimes, it can be difficult to ignore the potential that a former prospect once showed.
Teams will always take a flier on former top prospects simply because they both hope and believe that if provided, they will be able to fix them and it will be with their organization that the player finally figures it out and becomes the star they were once projected to be. The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the best teams in baseball when it comes to unlocking a hitters full potential, allowing them to become a staple in the heart of the lineup. It started with Jose Bautista’s historic 54 homer campaign in 2010 and has carried on ever since. Blue Jays fans have seen names like Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak have the best seasons of their careers in Blue Jays blue. The addition of Randal Grichuk this past offseason has the Blue Jays travelling down a familiar road. They were taking a chance on a Cardinals player who had shown potential but never put it all together consistently enough to avoid falling out of favour with that organization. What about the other Cardinals players they previously acquired?
Colby Rasmus was one and he turned in the best season of his career with the Blue Jays in 2013.
Ever since Grichuk made his big league debut, with the Angels, in 2014, one thing has been clear. When he hits the ball, he hits it hard. Since his debut, he has ranked 13th in hard contact percentage in all of baseball. His 39.7% comes in ahead of some of the games most feared hitters (ex. Votto, Encarnacion, Arenado). But his problem has been hitting the ball hard consistently. He has put up hot streaks that could rival many of the games top power hitting outfielders, but he’s never been able to do that over a full season. Having been a member of a Cardinals team that always seems to have more than three starting calibre outfielders, Grichuk has never received more than 500 at bats in a single season. With the Blue Jays, he will be out there every game as long as he’s healthy, allowing him to potentially work through some of those cold streaks and make adjustments. Not only has Grichuk struggled statistically, he has also struggled at the plate through faulty mechanics and a poor approach.
On May 28th of last season, Grichuk was sent down to single-A Palm Beach in an effort to revamp his swing mechanics and approach at the plate. At the time of his demotion, he was batting a horrid .227/.282/.387 which was good for just a 74 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), well off his career mark of 107. His notorious power was also way down, as he was sporting an ISO (Isolated Power) of just .160, down from his career mark of .239. That career ISO of .239 places him 18th amongst qualified batters since his debut in 2014, ahead of batters such as Goldschmidt, Cespedes, and Votto.
Upon returning from the minor leagues and injury, Grichuk went on to hit .245/.287/.530, with his WRC+ of 107 matching his career mark and his power back up, as his ISO increased to .285. In the time span after his recall, Grichuk was pulling the ball slightly (48.2% to 53.3%) more, and hitting the ball slightly harder (38.4% to 41.4%) and in the air slightly more (FB% from 42.0% to 43.2%). Now, these improvements to his batted balls came in a small sample size and the improvements were nothing drastic, but the numbers he posted after his return to the Cardinals are more in line with his career averages of 48.9% pull rate, 39.8% hard contact rate, and a 43.1% flyball rate.
I believe if you place that .245/.287/.530 mark in the American League East over 600+ at bats, Grichuk could produce a slash line such as .250/.290/.490 with 30 home runs with his usual above average defense in right field. There is one major difference between Grichuk and former Blue Jays breakouts, and that is his inability to consistently get on base, due to his tendency to chase pitches outside of the zone and to swing and miss.
Grichuk employs a swing heavy approach similar to current Blue Jay, Kevin Pillar. For comparisons sake, since 2014, Grichuk has swung and missed at 14.7% of the pitches he has seen, which is the 21st worst SwStr% (Swing Strike Percentage) in that span. The MLB average SwStr% is 9.5%. In that same span, Pillar has swung through just 8.6% of the pitches he has faced. Overall, Pillar has swung at 50.8% of the pitches he has faced since 2014, with Grichuk offering at a similar 52.3%. Outside of the zone, Pillar has chased 39.4% of pitches. Grichuk, meanwhile, has chased 35.5% of the pitches outside of the zone. So for those Blue Jays fans who are not too familiar with Grichuk, think of him as Kevin Pillar with more swing and miss but elite power.
If he is able to carry that pull heavy fly ball approach that he used post call up last season into 2018 and the Rogers Centre, Randal Grichuk has the potential to lead the Blue Jays in home runs, something that Blue Jays fans have grown accustomed to seeing from their right fielders.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Michael Torrey is a proud Bluenoser, student by day and baseball fanatic by night. Ever since he was a young boy, he had a love for not just the sport of baseball, but also covering it. The sport of baseball has given Mike many memories – with some of the highlights being the Bautista bat flip and being in attendance for the 2016 Canada Day marathon.