It’s going to come up, so let’s get it out of the way now: Randal Grichuk was selected one pick ahead of Mike Trout in the opening round of the June 2009 First-Year-Player Draft.
Trout, who is still with the Los Angeles Angels, is widely regarded as the game’s best player – the golden brick if you were building a team from the ground up.
Grichuk had never played above Double-A when, last November, he and fellow outfielder Peter Bourjos were traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for third baseman David Freese and relief pitcher Fernando Salas. Bourjos has become the starting center fielder in St. Louis and, most days, that’s Grichuk’s job description with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.
Randal Grichuk finds himself manning centerfield for the Memphis Redbirds after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in November. He’s part of a loaded outfield in Memphis.
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
“I felt like being traded, that’s fresh eyes, new opportunity,” Grichuk said. “Get away from my past and start over. It’s a great feeling.”
Don’t take that the wrong way, though. Grichuk and Trout were, and are, friends.
“It just happened we got drafted by the same team,” Grichuk said.
Grichuk is only 22. And his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame boasts Popeye arms and fast-twitch legs. In a different circumstance – another team – he might be getting force-fed in the majors now. Occasionally, that’s the best thing for a player. More often, it’s the worst.
As an outfielder in the Cardinals’ organization, however, Grichuk could put up big numbers this season and still not see St. Louis until September. Even as a member of the 40-man roster and the No. 10 prospect in the organization as rated by Baseball America.
Oscar Taveras, deemed the Cardinals’ top prospect and the No. 3 prospect in the game by Baseball America, and Stephen Piscotty, who opened eyes with a great spring training, are also playing the outfield for the Redbirds. And Joey Butler, essentially the team’s fourth outfielder, and who got 12 at-bats with the Texas Rangers last season, was actually leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting (.464) through the first week and a half.
“The system’s loaded in outfield depth, that’s for sure,” Grichuk said, and that includes James Ramsey and Mike O’Neill at Double-A Springfield.
Grichuk, who bats and throws right-handed, was hitting .300 with four doubles, a homer and seven RBIs through the Redbirds’ first 11 games.
He lost much of his 2010 and 2011 seasons to injuries – everything from a torn thumb ligament to a broken wrist to a fractured kneecap. Last season at Double-A Arkansas for the Angels, he hit .256 with 22 home runs and 64 runs batted in. He also had 27 doubles and eight triples. But he took just 28 walks with 92 strikeouts over 500 at-bats.
“He has to find a way to strike out less, work his way on base, and still use that power to his advantage,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “If he can do that, he might become a very special player at the major-league level.”
During the Redbirds’ first homestand, Redbirds manager Pop Warner and hitting coach Mark Budaska had a talk with Grichuk. Budaska already had started working with him on making some subtle, but not insignificant, changes in his swing and approach.
“He wants my elbow a little bit back, keep that down angle and get to the ball as quickly as possible,” Grichuk said, offering the short explanation.
“He just has to manage the strike zone and try and stay in the middle of the field,” Budaska said.” That kid has a lot of athleticism, and the ball really comes off his bat nice. He’s got bat speed.”
Warner’s message to Grichuk: “Look at the big picture. We’re doing this for your future, not just so you can put up Triple-A numbers. We want you to be a mainstay in St. Louis and help us win championships.”
Grichuk understands. Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but he gets it. This isn’t like when he was 12 and hitting home runs at the Little League World Series.
At Double-A, he had to adjust to pitchers starting him with breaking balls while he was forever sitting on the fastball. There will be more adjustments this season at Triple-A – and whenever he reaches the majors; the Cardinals do believe it is when, not if.
“Obviously, you want to perform now,” he said. “I think it’s a process. Give yourself the best swing, the best opportunity, so when you do get called up there you can perform.”
And there is the possibility of getting called up there. The Cardinals made liberal use of the Redbirds’ roster last year on the way to the National League pennant. It could happen again.
“That’s one of Mo’s big things,” Grichuk said, referring to Mozeliak. “They’re not afraid to call their guys up. I like that.”