Trent Grisham became a well-known fantasy commodity in 2020. As part of an explosive Padres offense, the talented outfielder showcased an impressive combination of speed, power, and plate discipline.
While Grisham was a known prospect coming up through the Milwaukee Brewers organization, he was never an elite prospect. He had some strikeout concerns and could never seem to hit for a high average.
The question becomes what can we expect from Grisham? Is the 2020 production sustainable? Is it a mirage? Or is there even more upside left to tap into?
The Brewers selected Grisham out of high school with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft. The outfielder had some success in Rookie ball, but above that level, it took him some time to adjust. Grisham consistently posted high walk rates at each stop — his rates were in the mid-to-upper-teens — but his batting average never topped .233 in a full season campaign at the Single-A, High-A, or Double-A levels. In Grisham’s defense, he was a few years younger than the average player and he was still compiling steals to go with a moderate but unspectacular number of home runs. The walk rates, too, allowed him to post a wRC+ above 100 in each of the seasons.
Then, in 2019, a breakout occurred. The chart below outlines the differences in Grisham’s production.
|Stats||2018 (AA)||2019 (AA)||2019 (AAA)||2019 (MLB)|
That’s a heck of a 2019 for Grisham. At age 22, he played in three different levels, including the bigs. Combine all three of his levels, and you get 32 home runs and 13 steals in 144 games. That will play. The increase in the power numbers from 2018 to 2019 is what sticks out the most. From a power perspective, Grisham’s 2018 stats are more or less what we saw from him in every prior. In 2019, he performed like a legitimate thumper. In the minors, his walk rate remained about the same while he improved his strikeout rate. His discipline stumbled a bit when he reached the majors, but again, he was just 22 and was making the jump to big league action after being in Double-A just a month before.
The main difference for Grisham appears to have been his ability to pull the ball. His pull rate climbed in the minors and made a significant leap in 2019. In 2018, Grisham was pulling the ball 43.3% of the time and going opposite field 29% of the time. In 2019, his pull rate increased to 47% while his oppo rate dipped to 23%. As a result, his HR/FB rate, which consistently sat around 6% prior to 2019, jumped all the way to about 20%.
Despite Grisham absolutely destroying Double-A and Triple-A in 2019 before a ho-hum debut at the MLB level, the Brewers dealt the young outfielder to the San Diego Padres less than two months after the season ended. The exchange also netted the Padres Zach Davies while the Brewers welcomed Luis Urias and Eric Lauer. At the time of the deal, Urias was a top-20 prospect in many circles, with high praise centered around his hit tool. There were some concerns about exit velocities, though, and it didn’t take long before it seemed like the Padres may have gotten a massive steal.
Grisham truly burst onto the MLB scene in the shortened 2020 season. In 59 games, Grisham triple slashed .251/.352/.456 with 10 home runs and 10 steals. Here’s the list of all the players from last season who had at least 10 home runs and 10 steals: Grisham, Jose Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Trevor Story, Trea Turner, and Fernando Tatis Jr. That’s basically a group of players that were consensus top 10 picks in redraft leagues heading into 2021 … plus Grisham.
As touched upon earlier, perhaps the biggest factor in Grisham’s breakout was his increase in pull rate. When he made his MLB debut in 2019, he stopped pulling the ball as much, checking in at a 37.8% rate while going opposite field 28.8% of the time. The pull rate is about league average and the oppo rate is above league average. These are also notable differences from the percentages Grisham put up when he was demolishing the upper levels of the minors. He upped his pull rate to 43.8% in 2020, and a look at the charts below shows the difference in results for Grisham when he pulls it versus when he goes to the opposite field.
It’s easy to tell that when Grisham pulls the ball, good things happen. Like, really good things. He hits for an incredibly high average and for crazy good power. When he goes to the opposite field — not so much, especially in 2019. It’s logical to expect a player to hit better when they pull the ball, and most players do, but a look at the differences in Grisham’s 2019 outputs shows why it was important for him specifically to try to pull the ball more often the following season. In 2020, he dipped his oppo rate to 22.9%. His results on this type of batted balls did improve to much more acceptable marks in 2020, but they are still nowhere near what we see when Grisham pulls it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Grisham pulls the ball even more in 2021.
The 2020 jump in production is not only because Grisham pulled the ball more often, though. The lefty was simply squaring up balls better. Grisham improved his line drive rate from 27% in 2019 to 32% in 2020, and his barrel rate from 5.4% to 11.1%.
What’s most encouraging is that there might even be an opportunity for more growth here. Grisham’s 43.8% ground ball rate in 2020 was close to the league average. During his breakout in the minors, this rate was in the mid-30s. If Grisham trades a few more of these groundballs for line drives or fly balls, we could see another uptick in his power output. As the chart below shows, Grisham was one of the most frequent line drive hitters in the league, but compared to most line drive hitters, he didn’t hit that many fly balls.
Grisham had an xBA of .253 and an xSLG of .895 on fly balls in 2020. His 93.7 MPH FB/LD exit velocity ranked 58th in all of baseball. If he returns more to what we saw from him in the minors in 2019 in terms of keeping the ball off of the ground, Grisham’s power output should be in store for another boost going forward.
Grisham pulling the ball led to a breakout campaign for the outfielder in the minors in 2019. After a small sample in the majors that season and a trade to the San Diego Padres that offseason, the results we saw from Grisham in the upper minors began to surface at the major league level. He pulled the ball more and squared it up more often. A decrease in his ground ball rate could lead to an even bigger breakout in 2021. It’s an extremely small sample, but Grisham is pulling the ball and hitting it in the air even more frequently to start the year.
When evaluating dynasty assets, it is also important to always check their splits. Ask yourself the question, “is this player at risk of becoming a platoon option?” A part-time role for a player, no matter the talent, puts a big dent into that player’s production value. Luckily for Grisham, that doesn’t seem to be too much of a concern. For his career so far, the lefty has put up a 110 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a 118 wRC+ versus right-handed pitching. He doesn’t seem at risk of becoming part of a platoon bat but it will be important to continue to monitor his production against lefties. He does have a career 32.5% strikeout rate against them and if that number ticks up then it could become problematic. The Padres have not been hesitant to add talent to their roster and they already have several righty bats. At the very least, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Grisham leadoff against righties and hit in the lower half of the order against lefties.
Overall, Grisham is one of the few players in the league who, health pending, seems like a safe bet for a 20/20 season. Throughout his entire minor league career, the outfielder posted double-digit walk rates at every level, and that hasn’t changed to start his MLB career. There is no reason to believe he won’t always have a knack for getting on base. And when he does, Grisham can put his elite speed to work. The outfielder’s sprint speed ranked in the 96th percentile in 2020, and in his minor league career, he stole bases at about a 75% clip. There should be plenty of 20-plus steal seasons in his future.
As mentioned earlier, Grisham could be in elite territory when it comes to power/speed production. He does have relatively high, but not concerning, strikeout rates. This is because Grisham runs deep counts, though, and not because he has swing-and-miss issues. His strikeout rates do put a slight cap on his average and ultimate upside. He does get a big boost in OBP leagues, though, and slots in at the top of one of the most explosive offenses in baseball. At just 24 years old, he should be considered a borderline top-30 dynasty asset. He battled a hamstring strain this spring and is now dealing with a quadriceps injury. There won’t be many buying opportunities for Grisham in the foreseeable future, but there could be a small window here from an impatient owner.
Photos by Brian Rothmuller & Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare