Posted on May 29, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
For the second straight year, Randal Grichuk’s performance has dropped off so much that the St. Louis Cardinals have decided to demote him to the minors. But unlike last year when Grichuk had two brief stints in triple-A during the second half of the season, the Cardinals have decided to send him all the way back to A-ball. On Monday, the Cardinals optioned Grichuk to their Palm Beach affiliate in the Florida State League. The move coincides with St. Louis activating Jose Martinez from the DL.
“Over the last week or so he’s really been struggling at the plate, we wanted to give him the opportunity to take a deep breath, allow him to work on some stuff down in Jupiter where there’s a little bit less stress,” Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told reporters Monday.
Despite slugging 24 home runs last season, Grichuk had a down year after a breakout season in 2015. But his struggles have continued this season. After a solid April, Grichuk has fallen off the rails in May, dropping his season totals to .222/.276/.377. Specifically, the Cardinals want Grichuk to work on his strike zone management. Not only is Grichuk striking out at an alarming rate, but he’s also getting behind in counts and making it difficult for himself to get good pitches to hit.
“Clearly when you’re looking at that strike zone management, the ability to put himself in an advantage in counts, is what we’re hoping to see,” Mozeliak explains. “All of us who’ve gotten to see him over the years know he’s got that type of power, game-changing type swing, but right now it’s just not working.”
Of course, sending Grichuk all the way to A-ball is far different from a trip to triple-A to help build up his confidence. Mozeliak says demoting Grichuk to triple-A would have been the “simple thing,” explaining that the Cardinals already know that Grichuk can handle triple-A pitching. Meanwhile, a trip all the way back to A-ball, a level he hasn’t played at since 2012, will help Grichuk focus more on fundamentals like his management of the strike zone.
“My feeling is, you’ve always heard me say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different outcome,” Mozeliak said. “This is no different, so I really felt like we had to do something different here, and it’s outside the box, but he’ll work with (offensive strategist) George Greer for a week or so and see how things go.”
The fact that Grichuk is going to A-ball and not just triple-A may actually be a good sign. It would be easy for the Cardinals to stash Grichuk at triple-A and forget about him until they need another outfielder. But a move all the way to A-ball means the Cardinals still believe in Grichuk enough to break everything down and build himself back up again. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Monday that Grichuk still possesses “superstar talent” but has “a couple things he’s got to fix.”
“That’s part of growing. It usually separates whether a guy stays here for a long time or not — whether or not they can maintain those adjustments they know they had to make,” Matheny said. “How quick can you make that learning curve to make those changes (that are) necessary?. Hopefully, those get quicker and quicker for Randal along the way.”
With Grichuk back in the minors, Tommy Pham figures to get most of the playing time in left field. Pham has been electric since being promoted from triple-A earlier this month, hitting .333 with an OPS of 1.031. Martinez was also productive early in the year before being sidelined by a groin injury and should also see some time in the St. Louis outfield alongside Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty.
With Fowler and Piscotty playing almost every day, Pham earning regular playing time, and Martinez back in the mix, there’s no need for the Cardinals to rush Grichuk back to the majors. However, Grichuk does have a higher upside than any of the team’s other outfielders, and so the Cardinals are hopeful that a trip down to A-ball can help him get back on track after nearly a year and a half of underperforming.