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Atlanta Braves 2022 Season Review: Vaughn Grissom

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Vaughn Grissom went from being an afterthought to the 2022 season, starting all the way in A-ball, and not only making it to the big leagues, but giving the team a real spark while Ozzie Albies was injured. He finally slowed down at the end of a long season full of firsts for him, but he made quite an impression in a rather short time.

How Purchased

The Braves drafted Grissom in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB Draft from Hagerty High School in Florida, where he was teammates with Detroit Tigers top prospect and fellow 2022 rookie Riley Greene. Despite going into Day 3 of that draft, Grissom was hardly a Day 3 talent as he signed an overslot bonus.

What were the expectations?

Honestly, there haven’t been any, at least as far as big league performance in 2022 is concerned. Grissom started the year off by starting at High-A Rome, and even his biggest supporters probably didn’t envision him moving up three levels while also skipping Triple-A. completely to wear in Atlanta. That’s not to say there were zero expectations, as he ranked highly on our list of top 30 prospects this spring—seventh or fifth, if you cross out the pair of faces swapped pre-season for Matt Olson. Grissom was expected to reach the upper levels of the minors sometime in the 2022 season, and perhaps make his debut sometime in the 2023 season in early spring.

2022 results

Grissom completely changed preseason expectations by simply hitting the ball well year-round in every stop he took. As mentioned, he started out at High-A Rome, where he spent most of his season. In 74 games there, he hit . 312/. 404/. 487 with 11 home runs and 20 steals in 344 plate appearances. In those 74 games, 55 were at shortstop, with six each at second and third, and the final seven at DH.

Grissom’s success at Rome earned him a promotion to Double-A Mississippi on July 12, right in the middle of the season. At the Pearl, he played in 22 games, totaling 98 plate appearances, and hitting . 363/. 408/. 517 with three home runs and seven more steals. He made 21 short starts and one in the second. That gave him a combined minor league slash line of . 324/. 405/. 494 with 14 home runs and 27 steals, walking 36 times for 54 strikeouts in 442 plate appearances.

Less than a month into his Mississippi stay, Ozzie Albies was injured for the first time, and on August 10, after Albies replacement Orlando Arcia injured his hamstring running to an extra-innings double at Fenway Park , Grissom got the call to the show – skipping Triple-A in the process. Grissom played in 41 games and made 156 appearances for Atlanta, hitting . 291/. 353/. 440 with five homers and five steals, walking 11 times and striking out in 34 hits. In total, Grissom compiled 0.7 fWAR with 121 wRC+ on those 156 PAs – his line was hampered by some poor defensive numbers.

What went right? What went wrong?

A lot went right. A lot went wrong. Grissom started off on a high as soon as he arrived in the MLB, but cooled to the point where he lost the starting second baseman job to Orlando Arcia later in the year and in the playoffs.

Grissom’s first 26 games saw him hit . 347/. 398/. 558 with all five home runs he recorded with seven walks for 18 strikeouts in 103 plate appearances (165 wRC+). Sure, he was outperforming his xwOBA by a ton, but the xwOBA itself was still more than good and way better than anyone probably expected for a guy thrown into the fire (0.410 wOBA, 0.353 xwOBA). Then, starting September 9 and continuing through the rest of the year, he played in 15 games and recorded 53 plate appearances, batting just .174/.264/. , 0.220 wOBA, 0.276 xwOBA).

So which player is he? Probably neither. He’s a pretty good hitter, but not the guy you’d expect to have OPS over .950. He is also a very good hitter for having an OPS of .460 and a strikeout rate of 30%. With his early success, along with rookie seasons for Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, it’s important to remember that he was a 21-year-old rookie who started the year in Rome and didn’t expect to make it to Atlanta this season.

The thing with Grissom is that even when he was having fun early on, he never did it in the “usual” way these days. If you cut your season into overlapping 25 AP chunks, it literally has 1 where his average exit speed exceeded the MLB average. When overlapping 50 AP blocks, you get zero. The strong hit rate, perhaps a more useful indicator, is only slightly more generous. Early on, Grissom hit a ton of flares—which actually have a high xwOBA, but it’s unclear if repeatedly hitting flares is actually a skill—which boosted his numbers; over time these flares became flies and as he didn’t really make strong contact it seemed to send him into a tailspin. First he did a lot of fly ball outs, then he stopped aiming “up” and did a lot of ground outs, and so on. All in all, he swung a lot, both on strikes and on balls, made good contact and really didn’t make much of that high contact. It’s not something you see a lot from a Braves player these days, and unless the Braves end up moving Grissom this offseason, it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll continue to work on changing his profile to something that resembles their other hitters. Of the 14 Braves who put more than 100 balls in play in 2022, only Eddie Rosario, Albies, Robbie Grossman and Grissom were more than 0.5 mph below the league average, and of those, it couldn’t be seen, one didn’t spend their During All season with the Braves, Albies had some relatively new issues with outfield selection, and Grissom was last on the team.

His defense was also an enigma, and not the good kind. All three DRS, UZR and OAA agreed that their defense at second base, in a small sample, was pretty bad. He scored -5 OAA, three runs below average, in about a quarter of a season, which is a brutal rate.

I don’t think many will forget his big league debut on August 10 against the Red Sox at Fenway, where he went 2-4 with a home run and a pair of runs batted in.

Also memorable was his last hurray, the last game before his collapse, where he reached base three times, including hitting a game-tying two-run homer and then scoring leadoff run after scoring later.

Sometimes though, even before he really struggled in earnest, the soft contact knocked him off his feet. In what turned out to be a brutal loss to the Cardinals on August 28, Grissom went 0 for 4. His first PA saw him trace a 1-0 curve over the plate smoothly to short, a widening that usually falls, but not this time. . Then, in probably one of his worst swings of the season, the following happened:

He then had another example of extremely poor contact (56 mph off the bat) leading to an out, and finally, with the game all but over, looped the ball 160 km/h off the bat in his final PA, but landed on an angle of nearly 60 degrees for an easy exit.

There was also whatever – there’s just no real reason to make that weak contact when you’re ahead on the count like this:

Things to work on for sure.

Outlook 2023

It’s hard to give Grissom a good perspective on Grissom’s 2023 season, especially since the team probably doesn’t even know what his role will be right now.

If Dansby Swanson is not re-signed, the Braves will either have to resort to a trade for a proven shortstop or else opt for one of the in-house options – Arcia or Grissom. If Swanson returns, or a veteran is acquired via trade, it becomes a question of what to do with Grissom. Obviously, second and third are already up for grabs, but the Braves could try him in left field, or even on DH after William Contreras was sacked. There’s also a chance he’ll end up playing as an almost full-time guy in a super-utility role, as he brings some defensive versatility, though it’s unclear if that defense will actually be beneficial. Or the Braves could get another shortstop, bring in a left fielder, and decide to send him to Triple-A to open the year to make him hit more regularly.

Projections for him are pretty positive at this point, and it’s said that ZiPS, when released, will have an upbeat for Grissom as well. These days, he looks like an above-average bat (something he still managed, even in the xwOBA, despite his season-ending meltdown) with serious defensive issues. He’s still an above-average player, but one wonders if, and potentially how, a penchant for relatively soft contact could change the trajectory towards success. Defense also remains a big issue – we really don’t have enough data to go from there, but what he showed in 2022 wasn’t good.

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