The Padres have been on the hunt for long-term outfield pieces for a while. Over the past five years, the Friars have trotted out ten different Opening Day starters on the grass. Only Manuel Margot (three times), Wil Myers and Matt Kemp (two apiece) had garnered multiple Opening Day opportunities in that time. Evidently, they weren’t sold on their 2019 group, either. Of the four outfielders with the most playing time for the Friars last season, three are gone. Hunter Renfroe and Margot were sent to the Rays in separate deals, while Franmil Reyes was traded to the Indians in last summer’s three-team blockbuster. Only Myers is still around, and that’s seemingly because the club found his contract ($67.5MM remaining over three years) too difficult to move.
Yet the club acted decisively to solidify the outfield this offseason. Tommy Pham came over from Tampa Bay in the Renfroe deal. He’s a known commodity who should shore up left field for the next two years, his final seasons of arbitration control. More interesting from a long-term perspective is Trent Grisham. The 23-year-old was acquired from the Brewers in November in a four-player deal that cost the Pads prized young infielder Luis Urías and starter Eric Lauer.
A first-round pick (15th overall) out of a Texas high school in 2015, Grisham’s pro career got off to a bit of a rocky start. Baseball America’s #49 overall prospect after his draft year, his stock fell in the eyes of evaluators with each passing season. High strikeout rates in the low minors combined with relatively little power production to tamp down his offensive output. He always drew an elite number of walks, but it was fair to question whether that would continue against higher-level pitchers.
In 2017, Grisham seemingly turned a corner. He increased his fly ball rate by ten percentage points from the year prior. Not only did he maintain that ability the following year, he upped it another six points in his first crack at Double-A. Things fully clicked last season, when Grisham maintained his fly ball oriented batted ball profile while cutting his strikeouts four points. All the while, he managed to maintain his elite walk rates. In 283 plate appearances in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, Grisham hit .254/.371/.504 with a career-high 13 home runs. He matched those 13 homers in a month-plus in the PCL before earning an August call to the majors.
With only 183 MLB plate appearances under his belt, Grisham certainly doesn’t have a long track record at the highest level. Early indications, though, are he’ll carry over much of that minor-league approach. He remains exceptionally patient. That willingness to run deep counts will probably always lead to a fair amount of strikeouts, but Grisham made contact at a league average rate in the big leagues when he did swing. He also showed surprising speed, ranking in the 93rd percentile leaguewide, per Statcast.
To some, Grisham’s probably only known for his costly error in right field in last season’s NL Wild Card game. That unfortunately proved to be the final image of his Milwaukee career, but Brewers GM David Stearns shot down any notion (via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com) that one play had anything to do with the trade. No doubt, the left-handed hitter’s performance track record and physical gifts weigh heavier on decision-makers’ minds than a single misplay, no matter how high-profile.
MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell reported last month Grisham had the inside track at the Padres’ center field job. If/when the 2020 season resumes, that presumably would still be the plan. San Diego no doubt hopes his impressive high-minors performance will translate into an MLB-ready, long-term outfield fixture.