After the surprise wore off a bit, many St. Louis Cardinals fans were encouraged by at least one aspect of outfielder Randal Grichuk’s demotion to high-A Palm Beach on May 29. It was disclosed that the struggling outfielder would be working on an individual basis with minor league offensive strategist George Greer at the Cardinals complex in Jupiter, Florida.
Upon closer inspection, however, their time together appeared to be relatively short. Just a few extended spring training games remained, with the final contests on June 3. Further, the finicky Florida weather did not cooperate. Grichuk appeared in just one contest for the Beach Birds, on June 4, before the Florida State League club was rained out for the next two nights and then had a day off.
The next day, June 8, the 25-year old was returned to a more appropriate level of completion. Grichuk was transferred to Triple-A Memphis, a level at which he first reached in 2014 and has played during parts of three of the last four seasons.
No one could anticipate what was coming next, however, with Greer almost immediately joining his new pupil with the Triple-A Redbirds.
Here is how it came about.
After Grichuk left the Cardinals, the club hit bottom as they slogged through a disastrous seven-game road trip during which they lost all seven at Chicago and Cincinnati. The next day, a major shake-up of the St. Louis coaching staff was announced.
One of the changes was assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller taking a leave of absence. No further explanation was given for the departure of the former Major League infielder and how long he would be away.
Mueller’s replacement was Memphis hitting coach Mark Budaska, who in turn was backfilled with the Redbirds by Grichuk’s tutor, Greer.
With extended spring training over and EST players and first-signing draftees alike scattering to their short-season clubs, it appears to be a good time for Greer to focus his short-term efforts on one team. In that role, it would not be surprising if Grichuk receives a bit of extra attention – and maybe Patrick Wisdom, too, with more on that later.
Grichuk starting slowly at Memphis
In early returns, results are mixed at best.
Before his demotion, Grichuk was not showing any progress in cutting his strikeouts. This season, his K rate with St. Louis is 29.8 percent, which is almost identical to his career MLB strikeout rate of 29.9 percent logged over parts of the last four seasons.
With the Redbirds, he has nine Ks in 28 plate appearances for a small sample size rate of 32.1 percent. Through six games, his Memphis slash line of .231/.286/.385/.670 hardly screams “promotion”. In fact, it is very close to what Grichuk compiled with St. Louis earlier this season, a level of performance which of course led to his demotion (.222/.276/.377/.653).
Greer joined the Cardinals prior to the 2015 season in the dual role of minor league offensive strategist and Johnson City hitting coach. The last two seasons, the 70-year old focused on the offensive strategist role, essentially serving as minor league hitting coordinator when Derrick May was not replaced after his promotion to St. Louis in the spring of 2016.
A 50-year veteran of baseball, Greer was drafted by the Cardinals in 1968 and played four years professionally. He has coached in the college and professional ranks since 1972. Greer logged 23 seasons as a collegiate head coach, with his clubs winning 714 games, first at Davidson and then as Wake Forest’s winningest leader ever.
Immediately prior to being hired by the Cardinals, Greer spent nine years in the New York Mets organization, including one season as a manager and the next eight as a hitting coach, including 2012-14 at Triple-A Las Vegas. Before joining the Cardinals in 2008, farm director Gary LaRocque held a number of player development executive positions for the Mets.
The Wisdom case
Prior to Grichuk’s arrival in Florida, Greer’s highest-profile Cardinals case was Patrick Wisdom. In a highly unusual move made about a month into the third baseman’s second season at Springfield, 2015, the struggling Wisdom was taken out of action and sent to Florida to work with Greer. I was in Jupiter during part of this time and watched several days of the right-handed hitter going through individualized drills.
It seemed to work – at least initially.
When Wisdom returned to Double-A, he put together his best month as a professional, winning the Texas League Player of the Month and Cardinals organization Player of the Month honors for June 2015. Soon, however, he slid back into subpar results, finishing the season at .237/.294/.406/.700. That was up from his .643 OPS in the 2014 season at Double-A. (His Triple-A OPS with Memphis in 2016 was .677.)
When all is said and done, the supplemental first rounder from 2012 – who was taken 16 picks after Stephen Piscotty – remains a marginal top 50 prospect. Wisdom plays well in spurts, but has yet to demonstrate the consistency that would clear his MLB vision.
Grichuk has already progressed beyond that, but the jury remains out as to whether he is a long-term major league starter. Perhaps Greer can still unlock his potential.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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