MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Grichuk makes Opening Night statement

Grichuk makes Opening Night statement

Today, the baseball world can embrace Randal Grichuk for, well, being Randal Grichuk. It's about time.

As if the past two seasons with the Cardinals hasn't been enough for him to step out of the shadow of Mike Trout, Grichuk was the undisputed hero of Sunday night's season-opening 4-3 walk-off victory against the Cubs, the Cards' archrival and the defending World Series champions.

It was Grichuk who delivered that two-run home run on an 0-2 pitch from Pedro Strop that put the Cardinals up, 3-0, in the bottom of the eighth.

It was Grichuk who delivered the walk-off single with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

It was Grichuk who allowed a sold-out Busch Stadium and national-television audience witness his arrival on the national scene.

"It's just a night I won't forget," Grichuk said.

Grichuk's walk-off single

Now it's time for baseball fans to remember Grichuk. It's time to remember him as the 24th player taken in the 2009 Draft.

It has taken Grichuk a little longer to make his statement in the big leagues than Trout, his former Minor League teammate and good friend. But then Grichuk has had to deal not only with the challenges of any big league hopeful to get his opportunity, but also a series of early-career injuries, and an unfair comparison to Trout.

Ed Bane, a special assistant with the Red Sox who was scouting director for the Angels in 2009, said Trout was far and away the No. 2 player on his Draft board that June, behind only Stephen Strasburg, who went No. 1 overall to the Nationals.

And when it came Bane's time to draft 24th and 25th in the first round, there was no debate in the Angels' Draft room that Trout was going to be No. 25.

Say what? Trout's "adviser" was making "rumbles of wanting way-over-the-slot money," Bane has explained. "I felt, 'OK, we'll go the other way.'"

Bane had a luxury. Not only did he have those back-to-back picks in the first round, but he also had the 40th and 42nd sections as compensation for the loss of free agents Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez.

Bane was targeting Trout, Grichuk and pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards. The Rockies held the trump card. The Rockies had both the 32nd and 34th selections. Their area scout in South Texas, Chris Forbes, was known to be a big believer in Grichuk, a high school slugger from Rosenberg, Texas.

"We felt we better take [Grichuk] if we wanted him," said Bane.

Turned out Bane went 4-for-4. The Rockies wound up taking outfielder Tim Wheeler at No. 32 and left-handed reliever Rex Brothers at No. 34. Bane was able to land Skaggs at No. 42 and Richards at No. 44, and on top of that, he signed both Grichuk and Trout for slot money.

Grichuk's two-run homer

Trout debuted for the Angels in 2011 at the age of 19 and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012. He opened this season at the age of 25 a five-time All-Star who won AL MVP Awards in 2014 and '16.

Grichuk, meanwhile, spent five full seasons in the Minor Leagues before a November 2013 trade to the Cardinals led to a 47-game balance at the big leagues in '14. He became a regular for the Cards the following season, playing a splendid center field and showing his power potential with 17 home runs in 2015 and 24 last year.

Grichuk downplays the talk about Trout.

"That never bothered me," he has said. "I just knew I needed to stay on the field."

And that was a challenge early on. Three injuries limited Grichuk to 117 games combined in his first two years at Class A Advanced. He tore a ligament in his thumb 12 games into 2010, then he broke his wrist diving for a fly ball after his return. In '11, Grichuk opened the season sidelined by a fractured kneecap, suffered when he fouled a ball off the knee during Spring Training.

Bane, however, admits the unfair expectations had to weigh on Grichuk.

"It is human nature for a competitor to prove things, and he may have gotten out of doing what he does best," said Bane. "But he got himself back to doing what Randal Grichuk is capable of doing, and Randal Grichuk is capable of doing plenty."

Grichuk has certainly done more than 14 of the 23 players taken ahead of him in that 2009 Draft, none of whom have appeared in 100 big league games, and nine of whom never put on a big league uniform.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.