MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Grichuk ready to escape Trout's shadow

Health, opportunity providing 5-tool Card chance to fulfill potential

Grichuk ready to escape Trout's shadow

Mike Trout is six days older than Randal Grichuk and light years ahead of him as a ballplayer -- not that it's anything for the Cardinals' center fielder to feel bad about. Trout, the game's best, is miles ahead of almost everyone in the sport.

Trout and Grichuk have been linked since June 9, 2009. They were the Angels' first two choices in a 2009 haul by then-scouting director Eddie Bane that compares favorably with any in the 50-year history of the Draft.

The Angels had compensation picks Nos. 24 and 25 in the first round, and they used them on Grichuk and Trout, in that order.

It just as easily could have been Trout then Grichuk, who were regarded as virtual equals as prospects by Bane and his staff. But Grichuk, not as physically formidable as Trout at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, has had to live with being "the guy taken ahead of Trout" ever since.

Derailed repeatedly by injuries before he was dealt to the Cardinals with Peter Bourjos after the 2013 season for David Freese and Fernando Salas, Grichuk, 24, is ready to step out of Trout's massive shadow and be the player Bane raved about when he introduced his two prize picks in '09.

"I have a lot of faith in my area scouts and our cross-checkers," said Bane, whose selection of Grichuk was branded a reach by some Draft insiders. "Our guys really liked Randal Grichuk. We targeted him, and we think he has a chance to be a terrific player.

"We're talking about Grichuk as a left fielder, because Trout's definitely a center fielder. These kids are both terrific athletes."

When opportunity finally knocked in St. Louis last season, Grichuk responded with a .276 average, 17 homers and a .548 slugging mark in 103 games. He lost 47 days to lower back and elbow strains in April and August, but the dazzling skill set came shining through.

Grichuk's 448-foot homer off Chris Sale of the White Sox on June 30, the day he fell a double shy of a cycle, was the longest by a Cards hitter at Busch Stadium all season.

With center field and that booming bat in his hands, Grichuk is crushing balls this spring. The feeling is he's ready to take flight as an All-Star level player.

"Randal is extremely confident in his abilities -- why wouldn't he be?" Bourjos said last summer as Grichuk was showcasing his five tools. "He's an incredible talent. He has [Mark] Trumbo power, speed, athleticism -- everything. I have a feeling he'll be a star in St. Louis long after I'm gone."

A bright guy, Bourjos saw the writing on the clubhouse wall. After two disappointing seasons as a Redbird, he's hoping to recapture his exciting 2011 Angels form as he bids for regular work in the Phillies' outfield.

The Cardinals know what they have in Grichuk: an athlete you can build around, like Trout.

Unlike Trout, who rarely has missed a start in his four historic seasons, Grichuk has been blindsided by injuries. He tore a thumb ligament in 2010, playing only 64 games. In '11, Grichuk cracked a kneecap on a foul ball and sprained a knee ligament sliding, limiting him to 53 games.

The Rosenberg, Texas, native finally stayed healthy and began to show his power/speed combination in 2012 and '13, winning a Minor League Gold Glove and leading the Texas League in extra-base hits in '13. The Cards insisted on Grichuk's inclusion in the Freese swap.

Grichuk is not the polished gem we see in Trout -- there's that inevitable and unfortunate comparison again -- but his upside rises as high as the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

Grichuk needs to improve his 110-to-22 strikeouts-to-walks ratio with a better two-strike approach, but nobody wants to curb his enthusiasm. Putting more balls in play, he can lift his .877 OPS from last season into Trout territory.

It would not be a major surprise to see Grichuk embracing his old compadre, Trouty, at the All-Star Game in San Diego in July.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.