Gifted Grichuk aims to follow No. 15's footsteps

Young center fielder gleaning wisdom from Edmonds at camp

February 26th, 2016

JUPITER, Fla. -- Randal Grichuk claimed the number with no knowledge of its lineage, unaware that in St. Louis, No. 15 evoked images of spectacular defensive plays and majestic home runs. For Grichuk, its initial significance was not nearly so loaded.

He chose the number merely because it had long been a lucky one for him. What he realizes now is that when he did, it also set in front of him shoes to fill.

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Grichuk, who nabbed No. 15 when he made his Major League debut two summers ago, isn't the first Cardinals player to wear those digits since Jim Edmonds. But there are too many similarities between the paths of the two outfielders not to wonder if Grichuk, now, can be what Edmonds was then -- an elite defender and an offensive anomaly for that position.

The two see it, too -- which is why, this spring, they're sharing much more than just a number.

"Seeing him make plays, yikes, it was something special," Grichuk said after the Cardinals' Thursday morning workout. "Obviously, talent-wise, he was amazing. But I've heard so much about the mental side of it, and how he was two and three steps ahead of the game at all times, thinking and anticipating. Any edge that I can get it, I want."

Grichuk took the initiative this week to seek out Edmonds, who is back at Spring Training to begin a stint as a guest instructor. He asked Edmonds for his time and his wisdom, warning him up front that he'd be coming to him with questions regularly over the next few weeks.

Edmonds told him he welcomes the open dialogue.

"He is a good athlete and possesses everything you need," Edmonds said of Grichuk. "It's just how quickly you can go from just being a baseball player to being an efficient, smart, intelligent baseball player. As a center fielder, you have to see everything that's going on instead of just standing at your position and then hitting.

"The first thing I told him was you have to take charge and take all the blame."

Edmonds was 24 years old, as Grichuk is now, when he became an everyday center fielder for the first time. The Angels actually drafted both players, 21 years apart. Edmonds spent seven big league seasons with the Angels before being traded to the Cardinals. Grichuk was dealt from Anaheim to St. Louis, too, though it was before he had ever dented a Major League roster.

Edmonds describes Grichuk as "more gifted than I was," but noted that to excel as a center fielder in the game, one has to be a student of it. That's where he believes he can help.

"I wasn't as talented as a lot of people, so I had to work real hard to get to where I was at," Edmonds said. "What separates you is what you think about and how you process what's going on in the field as quickly as you can. That's a thing we talk about -- how to get comfortable knowing the situations and the hitters. You can't just say I'm going to stand over here against this team and over there against this team. Every day and every pitcher and every hitter is a different scenario.

"All the games within the game, if he can learn that at an early age, he'll be one step ahead. It's a lot of responsibility. You really just have to see the big picture."

Edmonds, one of 13 outfielders in baseball history with eight Gold Glove Awards, started 1,686 in center field, a position the Cardinals have now opened for Grichuk as he readies for his first full season as an everyday player. It's not an unfamiliar position for him, as Grichuk played 106 games there in the Minors and another 42 from 2014-15. But while he's long been able to rely on his talent, Grichuk understands that to become elite, he must also anticipate and out-think.

"It's all about learning the mental side," Grichuk said. "Working with the catcher. Knowing your pitchers. Anticipating different stuff. Seeing what pitchers throw in different counts. Learning what they do and when they do it. Seeing how the catcher sets up. There was so much stuff that [Edmonds] would look for that normal guys don't do. I want to be like that."

"I hope that Randal turns into that kind of player," added manager Mike Matheny, who was Edmonds' teammate from 2000-04. "Randal has got an incredible level of ability, and it's going to be talking some things from Jimmy to where he can learn how to go out there and play the game and have fun and balance all the demands that come with it. I'd love to see some of that happen for Randal, because I believe it could help him shine."