When Randal Grichuk talks about the sweet spot of playing baseball, he uses the phrase "playing freely" more often than anything else.
For a guy who came to the St. Louis Cardinals via a trade after having his existence drawn up early on as the guy drafted ahead of Mike Trout, Grichuk arrived in 2014 with expectations. Years later, he knows the potential is there, but is still trying to put all the pieces together.
When asked what his role is right now, Grichuk provided a clear answer with a hint of light at the end. "I'm the fourth or fifth guy, possibly a bat off the bench-but a lot of things can change in spring," added Grichuk. He mentioned at least three times how things can change in spring and being ready is the key, almost like a mantra he has slowly begun chanting to himself.
Versatility is key for Grichuk, a guy who can play all three outfield spots. "They know, if a guy goes down or gets sick, that I can play all three spots," Grichuk said. He can also play all three spots fairly well, which doesn't exactly mean Gold Glove caliber, but does help the team save runs.
He talked about playing time not being a factor overall, but also hinted that it may have hurt his ability to produce at times in 2017. I mean, think about it, trying to play a professional sport knowing you have the parts to get the job done, but wondering if you will get the time to see if they fit.
Grichuk and his friend and former teammate Stephen Piscotty knew they could both be traded this offseason, due to "the 37 outfielders" that existed between Springfield, Memphis, and the big league club. He also admitted that Piscotty was never completely right last season.
"I talked to (Greg) Garcia about it, noting how he wasn't the same guy. You'd see glimpses of him, but not all the time. Playing every home game in front of his parents will help. I hope it helps him play more freely," Grichuk said.
I asked Grichuk about the time in a player's career where he must know what he is and there's no sense in changing, and he agreed there was a time for it in his life. "That's key. Knowing what you are and running with it. It's something (Brandon) Moss and I talked about when he was here," Grichuk added.
With Grichuk, the goal is the same as it is with any other player: play as many games as you can. Right now, Grichuk is a fourth outfielder on the team, but he knows there will be a chance for him to get more time. He avoided arbitration with a 2.8 million dollar contract for 2018, but his future isn't set in stone. Unlike Dexter Fowler and even Piscotty, Grichuk hasn't done enough to garner a long term deal.
I can tell you Grichuk has hit 63 home runs the past three seasons without getting full-time work. I can tell you he can turn it on for four weeks before disappearing into a pile of strikeouts and ugly swings. I can tell you that he is a slugger who may never reach his potential, even if that potential may not exist in a starting capacity. For the record, he has put up seasons of 2.7 WAR or better.
In 2018, he isn't lined up to be the guy in St. Louis. Will he get the chance elsewhere? In order to get that shot, he will have to prove himself one more time with the Cardinals in a role that doesn't allow consistent exposure.
It's foolish to count out a 26 year old with Grichuk's skill set, and I don't think many clubs will go into the season with a better fourth outfielder.
Randal Grichuk doesn't have it all figured out yet, but he's ready to run with the current makeup he possesses. Swing away, and see if it helps you play more freely.