When Trent Grisham — then, Trent Clark — was selected fifteenth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2015 MLB Draft, he was considered to be one of the most polished high school hitters in recent memory. His excellent bat speed and discerning eye at the plate, along with what some scouts graded as '70' speed on the 20-80 scale, had fans and analysts dreaming of a top-of-the-order catalyst playing a solid center field at the big league level before too long.
His first exposure to professional baseball did nothing to dampen those high hopes for Grisham’s future. Despite enduring a concussion shortly after his debut, the left-handed swinger would go on to bat .309/.422/.442 with a homer and 16 steals during 43 games and 200 plate appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League. He was named as the top prospect on the circuit that year by Baseball America and earned a late-season call-up to the Pioneer League, where he recorded 13 hits in 43 at-bats and walked more times (9) than he struck out (8).
In the years since then, however, Grisham has seen his stock fall dramatically. The Brewers have challenged him with difficult assignments to affiliates that are typically filled with players several years older than him, and though he’s posted above-average batting lines at every stop he’s made, he has generally done so in a way that is unsustainable the higher one climbs the minor league ladder, with low batting averages and power outputs with a line that is buoyed by drawing walks off of inexperienced and often wild pitchers. From 2016-18, he produced basically three carbon copies of the same season, except at different levels. First, it a .231/.346/.344 slash for Class-A Wisconsin with a pair of homers in 59 games. The next year for the Carolina Mudcats, Grisham batted .223/.360/.348 with eight long balls across 133 contests. Finally, as he attempted to clear the tough developmental hurdle of moving from Class A-Advanced to Double-A, Trent hit .233/.356/.337 with seven dingers in 407 plate appearances.
Grisham drew free passes at greater than a 15% clip at each stop, but he also punched out nearly 24% of the time across more than 1,200 combined plate appearances. His batting averages hovered around .230 and his ability to drive the ball for extra bases was almost non-existent, with isolated power totals only slightly above .100. His speed has declined to the point where it is considered to be merely average and he is lacking in terms of arm strength meaning that a future as a left fielder who only play center or right in a pinch is probably in the offing. He plummeted down top prospect lists, ranked #14 by Fangraphs and #28 by MLB Pipeline entering the 2019 season. As Eric Longenhagen wrote in late November, “Grisham has physical talent that may resurface with some approach changes, but this current iteration probably isn’t a big leaguer.”
Entering his age-22 season in 2019, many in the baseball community considered this to be a make-or-break type of year for Grisham. Now in his fifth year as a professional, this would be his last opportunity to convince the higher-ups in Milwaukee that he should be given a 40-man roster spot after the season, or get left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Passed over on the organizational depth chart by several other promising outfield prospects, Trent began the 2019 season back in Double-A with the Biloxi Shuckers.
Grisham started his season off by hitting a home run on Opening Day, and his bat has continued to heat up with the weather. He posted a .728 OPS with four dingers in April, followed by an .828 OPS with three homers in May. It was at the start of June that his production began to soar. He smashed 6 long balls in the first 13 games of the month, accompanied by a .279/.476/.767 slash line. His overall .254/.371/.504 batting output for the Shuckers — equaling a 152 wRC+ — along with an already career-high 13 home runs earned Grisham a spot in the Southern League All-Star game.
Some changes to Grisham’s approach, more than anything specific with his mechanics, appear to be driving his improvement. He’s become a much more fly-ball oriented hitter in the past few years, adding launch angle to the point of topping out with a 46.5% fly-ball rate for Biloxi this season. But more importantly than trying to lift the baseball, Grisham has become far more aggressive with pitches that he can handle this season.
Grisham’s previously high strikeout rates are less a result of excessive swing-and-miss in his game, and more because of an approach that was passive almost to a fault. Grisham was notorious for letting hittable pitches go by while trying to work deep into counts. That did help yield impressive walk rates, but often put him behind during his at-bats and led to numerous whiffs. This season, however, Grisham has adopted more of an attacking mindset and when he gets a pitch in the strike zone that he can do damage with, he isn’t letting it fly by into the catcher’s mitt like he did in years past. This adjustment has not had a negative affect on his ability to draw base on balls — he earned them at a 15.5% clip during the first half with Biloxi — but it has helped him notably cut down on his strikeouts, to a mere 17.7% rate in 283 plate appearances.
Following his appearance in Double-A’s version of the Midsummer Classic, Grisham was rewarded with his first promotion to Triple-A. Rather than look overmatched against the pitching at the highest level of the minors, the southpaw slugger has continued to rake, launching home runs in each of his first three games played for San Antonio.
Grisham has played mostly center field this year, but his limitations defensively continue to exist. He’s considered to be an intelligent and instinctive runner on the basepaths and has stolen seven bags this year, even with only ‘50’ speed. But it is with the bat that Trent Grisham appears to finally be making good on his first-round pedigree during his fifth season with the franchise. With MLB trade season right around the corner, we should probably figure on hearing Grisham’s name bandied about in rumors as the big league club seeks upgrades. It will be up to Slingin’ David Stearns to determine whether this is a good time to sell high on a prospect who has dramatically boosted his value this season, or if Grisham now looks like someone who could be an important contributor on the field for Milwaukee in the coming years.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs