ST. LOUIS — When the Cardinals traded away David Freese and Fernando Salas in the offseason, no one paid much attention to the minor league prospect they got in exchange along with Peter Bourjos.
His last name was tough to remember, he was in AA and with the line of existing outfield prospects, many fans thought he was an afterthought.
But Randal Grichuk is a far more familiar name in St. Louis these days, earning playing time and standing out in an already crowded outfield.
“I’ve been saying that since spring training- the first time we laid eyes on him,” Mike Matheny said, praising the fast-rising prospect. “You got a guy that’s a plus runner, plus defender, plus arm and the ball comes off the bat like only a handful of guys in this league.”
Grichuk made a name for himself against left-handed pitching, hitting .298 with 15 homers and 14 doubles in the minors this season. He had an OPS of .979 in 178 at bats in 2014, and he’s carried that over to the big league level with three homers and three doubles in 56 at bats against southpaws.
“We’re watching swings of certain guys through this league. They fall down and their helmet falls off- all kinds of things they’re swinging so hard,” Matheny said, praising Grichuk after a pinch-hit homer against the Reds. “Randal’s is very controlled power.”
His power was on display for the home fans in the final series at Busch, homering in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday and doubling home a run Sunday. The success is especially impressive given that Grichuk has been asked to fill several different needs in his time with the club, often varying from night to night.
“I’ve definitely never been in this role. Throughout the minor leagues I’ve been lucky to be a starter everyday. So coming to the yard and seeing you’re not in the starting lineup, it was an adjustment period at the beginning to know that I have to stay mentally prepared for that sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth inning pinch hit, possibly to come in and win a game for us,” he said.
Grichuk has been asked to start, fill in as a defensive replacement and pinch hit, finding success in all three roles. It’s an adaptation necessary for first-time MLBers, and he’s done it quickly.
“That’s typically the path for a young player. Very few of them walk in here and are just handed the keys,” Matheny said. “They have to serve a couple different roles, go through a couple different challenges and see how they respond.”
He’s responded well, hitting .385 with an OPS of 1.100 in September games leading up to Sunday’s finale. In the final home game he finished strong in the field as well, making a diving catch in right to shoot some life back into the remaining fans at Busch.
“There was an adjustment period where I had to get used to it but now I feel pretty comfortable with it and any opportunity I can get I’m happy for,” he said.
The Cardinals are happy too, as the future looks bright for a corner outfield spot that seemed to be a major question mark for much of the year. Oscar Taveras is still an eye-catching prospect, but it’s becoming clear there will be a place for Grichuk well beyond a playoff roster spot.
“There’s nothing you shouldn’t like,” Matheny said, praising the 23-year-old’s tools. “Then all the intangibles, all the things you see in there (the clubhouse) that we put a high value on. You can check that box too.”