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Randal Grichuk: Top Angels Prospect Performance #15

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Keep in mind that this is not a traditional top prospect list because it focuses entirely on 2013 contributions. I rank guys according to advanced metrics which, for position players, include batting runs above average, positional adjustment, defense, and a replacement level calculation that scales the total to "Wins Above Replacement" (though the concept of replacement level doesn't really apply to minor leaguers). I use a standard "runs allowed based" WAR formula for pitchers.

Hitting lefties? Oh yeah, I'm all over it.
Hitting lefties? Oh yeah, I'm all over it.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

(15)  Randal Grichuk, 21, Of.  AA. 3.0 WAR, +10 bat, + 7 glove.   .256/.306/.474 with 22 HR & 9 SB

Rumor has it that Grichuk was the necessary piece in the Freese-for-Bourjos trade, and I think it's likely that he's the one who comes back to haunt the Angels in the end.  Injuries knocked him off of the radar for a couple of years, but he's quietly worked his way back into relevance. Quietly.

Speaking of things happening quietly, did anyone else see that the Rawlings Gold Glove committee awarded Grichuk a minor league gold glove?  Yeah, according to them, he's one of the top minor league outfielders in... well, the world.  He flashed good range and a strong, accurate arm in right field, and made a handful of spectacular plays in center. Full extension, highlight-reel catches that he probably could have snared on the run had he a true centerfielder's range.  Still, they were spectacular.  The Cards saw those catches too, since many came against the Redbirds.  Which partially explains why the Cardinals, who boast Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty, and James Ramsey in an overflowing farm system, wanted him.

The other possible reason is that the 21-year-old Grichuk, a power-hitting youngster still early in his development curve, has k'd in just 16.4% of his last 1,112 plate appearances of full season ball while still slamming 114 extra base hits and 40 homeruns in mostly pitching-friendly environments. Last year's decline in slash stats had folks wringing their hands about his contact rate and hit tool, but the drop was due entirely to a 50 point plunge in his BABIP from the previous season.  Arkansas is a difficult place to hit, similar to Anaheim Busch Stadium, so the depressed numbers provide a potential snapshot into Grichuk's future MLB lines with the Halos. Err, Cardinals. Dammit.

Grichuk's swing features both length and plenty of moving parts. He begins with an upright, open stance, then takes a big stride forward with his front foot.  Grichuk's torso moves with the stride, which means that his head also drifts forward and then downward when he plants the front foot. His hands and bat stay in place, separating from his shoulders and torso as he extends his arms behind him.  At the moment that he launches his hands into the swing, his slight, 6'1" frame is stretched taught like a rubber band.  The bat has a long way to go from his load to the point of contact, but that length allows him to generate plenty of bat speed. His wrists snap the bat through hitting zone on an exaggeratedly flat plane, giving Grichuk's swing an old-timey look.

There are plenty of red flags which Grichuk's detractors have pointed out for years: the bat separation off of his shoulder creates length in his swing, the big stride causes his head to move quite a bit, and all of the moving parts should mean a high-maintenance swing that is difficult to repeat. Misfires cause him to pop up too much.  All good reasons for the hit tool not to receive much love.

But the swing also allows Grichuk - who doesn't boast the thickest of frames - to create oodles of leverage, bat speed, and backspin.  That length generally comes with the cost of holes in his swing (think Brandon Wood), but again, Grichuk has consistently put up better-than-league-average contact rates because his bat is so fast.  He also does an increasingly good job of staying inside the baseball, hitting to the opposite field with authority.  He pounded 18 extra-base hits, including 6 homeruns, to right field last year.  There's a lot to like here, and he could get better.

I think the most important thing to note about Grichuk is that he doesn't necessarily have to be a regular from the get-go in order to contribute. At least for the next few years, he should have the athleticism to be an asset in the field and a tick above average on the base paths, making him a viable late-inning replacement. He also mashes lefties (.309/.347/.547 on his career), so is an ideal 4th outfielder on a club with a mostly lefty swinging outfield unit.  In other words, he is would have been the perfect complimentary piece for a team trying to extract value out Josh Hamilton's decline phase.