By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Randal Grichuk, Center fielder, St. Louis Cardinals
2015 season (Majors): 103 G, 323 AB, .276 BA, 17 HR, 47 RBI, 4 SB, .877 OPS
For a few years, Randal Grichuk’s claim to fame was that he was drafted by the Angels one spot before they took Mike Trout. By 2012, Trout mashed 30 homers in his first full big league season, while Grichuk was still toiling away in the low levels of the Minors
During that season, Grichuk had finally begun to find his swing, hitting 18 homers at the Class A Advanced level, but fans could still marvel at the fact that the Angels selected him before they chose Trout. In the offseason before the 2014 regular season, the Angels sent Grichuk along with Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals for David Freese and Fernando Salas, and a move away from Trout and the Angels worked wonders for him.
Grichuk finally ascended to Triple-A that season with the Cardinals, and he mashed. The outfielder hit 25 home runs in 108 games before getting a callup to St. Louis. His first stint with the Cardinals didn’t go well as he struggled in 116 plate appearances. Grichuk made the big club out of Spring Training last season and homered in his first start, but a few games later he was placed on the disabled list with a lower back strain. It was a setback, but he was able to return in May and made sure he stuck for the majority of the season.
Where Grichuk shines is his power swing. Of hitters with at least 350 plate appearances, Grichuk’s .272 ISO (isolated power) ranked ninth in the Majors, smack in between Blue Jays sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. Along the same qualifier, his hard-hit ball percentage (36.9) and HR/FB (home run/fly ball ratio, 19 percent) ranked in the top 25 in the bigs.
As the starting center fielder for the Cardinals in 2016, Fangraphs’ Depth Charts projections have him hitting 23 home runs (seventh among center fielders) and 75 RBis in 141 games, and based on his power potential, those may even be conservative.
But like most young hitters, Grichuk has his weaknesses. He needs to bring his K rate down from 31.4 percent in 2015, and he needs to simply make more contact. His contact percentage of 69.7 was tied with teammate Mark Reynolds for 13th lowest in baseball. Power hitters typically have lower contact rates, but even free-swinging sluggers should at least be around the league average of 80, so Grichuk clearly has work to do.
His plate discipline isn’t bad, but he could still stand to increase his walk rate in order to bring his OBP up from last season’s .329. If Grichuk can be more patient at the plate, he’ll cut down on his strikeouts just a bit and, in turn, see more strikes to hit. Reaching 30 home runs is within the realm of possibility, but not only will he have to improve his plate discipline to reach that, he’ll also have to stay healthy — which has been an issue for him in the past. Grichuk had two separate DL stints last year (back strain, elbow strain) and suffered from a myriad of injuries in the Minor League. He’ll need to shake the injury bug in order to put together a big season for the Cardinals.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.