Determined outfielder made adjustments after rough start to 2013 season
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Robbie Grossman packed his bags in a quiet clubhouse last May while a steady stream of teammates came by to wish him the best. Grossman's first taste of life in the Major Leagues -- his boyhood dream -- was over, and it was clear his emotions were getting the best of him.
"If I played better, it wouldn't matter, but it is what it is," a dejected Grossman told reporters that day as he left Minute Maid Park and headed for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Grossman, playing for his hometown Astros, had started 28 games early in the year and hit just .198. He went to the Minor Leagues determined to get back, motivated to get better and with the mindset that nothing was going to stop him.
Two months later, when J.D. Martinez went on the disabled list with a wrist injury, Grossman got another shot. He hit safely in his first 10 games back with the Astros, batting .472 (17-for-36) with three homers, nine RBIs and a .525 on-base percentage in that span.
Grossman, 24, grew more comfortable by the day. It was evident in his demeanor, his performance at the plate and his growth as a defensive player. Grossman had blossomed into the player the Astros had envisioned when they traded for him.
"Last year was an interesting year for him, because he came up and I think in his first stint, [he] learned about the differences between playing and succeeding in the Major Leagues and doing it at the Minor Leagues," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He went back to Oklahoma City and made some adjustments and got back. He was a very good player, and he helped us a lot the last couple of months of the season. I expect he's going to start from that point."
There are more than a few in the Astros organization that have pegged Grossman as the player who could have a breakout season. That's all noise to Grossman, whose reputation as a hard worker and team-first player are more important to him than anything.
"If you're not getting your uniform dirty, you're not playing hard enough," Grossman said.
Grossman called his up-and-down rookie season a learning experience, but the outfielder says he's more comfortable now.
"I know what to expect," Grossman said. "It's my second year over here, and I know what we're doing every day and I know all these guys and what the coaches expect. I am more comfortable."
Part of Grossman's growth at the plate can be credited to a new contact lens prescription he got early last year, but his adjustments in the batter's box have paid the biggest dividends.
Last year, with the help of hitting coaches John Mallee and Dan Radison at the Major League level and Leon Roberts at Triple-A, Grossman lowered his hands and learned to hold his ground better, which created more separation so he could get more power through his swing.
The adjustments continued into the winter, where Grossman, who grew up in the Houston area, was a fixture at Minute Maid Park.
"I had to," Grossman said. "The coach staff over here gave me what I needed to work on this offseason to make my game to the next level, to be an everyday player, and I worked my butt off trying to do that."
Even though Grossman scuffled early in the plate last year, Luhnow took notice that he was still drawing his walks and working counts.
"Any time you make any adjustments in your game, you're probably going to suffer a little bit of a setback at first," Luhnow said. "For a couple of weeks when he was in Oklahoma City, he was not having success, but he was just trying something different and ultimately it worked out.
"His bat got as hot as anybody in Triple-A, and when we called him up, he just continued to have that level of success at the big league level. That's a good sign. Someone who's had success and faces some adversity and is able to make the adjustments and turn it into a positive is the indication of the type of player that is going to continue to succeed."
Grossman walked at a lower rate and saw slightly fewer pitches per at-bat in his second stint in Houston last year, becoming more aggressive at the plate.
"I've definitely learned to pick and choose my spots, pick and choose with the pitchers I'm facing," Grossman said. "I've learned a lot of these guys, and I know what their strengths and weaknesses are."
When the Astros were in trade talks with the Pirates about sending starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez to Pittsburgh in July 2012, the deal would not have gotten done had Grossman not been included, Luhnow said. It was only a year earlier Luhnow was scouting the Florida State League while with the Cardinals, and he couldn't help but notice Grossman.
Grossman played in 134 games at Bradenton that year and was named Pittsburgh's Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .294 with a .418 on-base percentage. He led all of Minor League baseball in runs (127) and walks (104) and became the first Minor league player since Nick Swisher in 2004 to score least 100 runs and walk at least 100 times.
"What he did in the Florida State League was very impressive," Luhnow said. "Not just the fact that he's able to take walks, it's the tool set that complements that -- his ability to hit from both sides of the plate, to play all three [outfield] positions, to steal a base and hit doubles. He's going to have some over-the-fence power, too. We really liked the whole tools package with the track record."
The only question now is whether Grossman is indeed an everyday player.
"My feeling is he probably is," Luhnow said. "He's a guy that can play left field for us and potentially lock that position down. Otherwise, his skill set being a switch-hitter and being able to run and get on base, he's a perfect fourth outfielder. But I think he's got a chance to be an everyday guy, and this year will help us determine that."