NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Braves third-base coach Ron Washington made it clear what he thinks about Vaughn Grissom when asked if he is entering Spring Training thinking Grissom can be Atlanta’s starting shortstop.
“I’m not thinking he can do the job, I know he can do the job,” Washington said. “But he has to come up in here and he has to win a job. We’re not giving him anything. We just tried to get him ready to compete, and he’s ready to compete.”
Lots of smiles and handshakes were exchanged as Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Spencer Strider and many other Braves worked out at the club’s Spring Training facility on Monday. Pitchers and catchers won’t have their first official workout until Thursday. But there’s already excitement surrounding this team, which needs to replace All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson, who signed with the Cubs in December.
Could the replacement be Orlando Arcia, who spent four seasons as the Brewers’ starting shortstop? Or will it be Grissom? He prepared for this opportunity by going to New Orleans three times this offseason to work out with Washington, who is considered one of the greatest infield gurus the game has ever seen.
Washington told the Braves he wanted a chance to spend time with Grissom during the winter.
“When they talked about maybe they wouldn’t be bringing Dansby back, I just wanted to make sure with every option we had, we could do something with it,” Washington said. “This kid is talented. I just felt if I could spend some time with him over the winter, we can get him ahead of the curve. And believe me, just watch. Just watch.”
Grissom became a fan favorite after he started 2022 at High-A and ended up helping the Braves win a fifth straight National League East title. The 22-year-old infielder hit .291 with a .792 OPS over 41 games and in the process provided some late-season stability at second base, a position that missed Ozzie Albies’ presence most of last season.
Though Grissom has primarily played shortstop throughout his Minor League career, some scouts have questioned whether he can defensively handle the position at the big league level.
Washington really doesn’t care about the skeptics. In his mind, they weren’t present during the winter workouts, to see how a dedicated Grissom steadily increased optimism about his ability to play shortstop.
“We’ve got to watch him grow,” Washington said. “He doesn’t have it all yet. But he has enough right now to challenge for a job. And in my opinion, he has enough to take the job and run with it.”
Washington’s outlook is strengthened by the fact that he’s already seen Grissom prove he can be an effective student. Approximately four hours before most games played last September, the young infielder was on the field to receive instruction from Washington, Albies and others about how to improve as a second baseman.
“He was more or less trying to show you that he was a smart kid and that he knew a little bit about baseball,” Washington said. “But he only was able to do what he knew. When you take what he knew, and you put it at the big league level, he didn't know [anything].
"He knows something now. But then he didn’t. He was surviving. If we were to have to put him at second base right now, he’d be a [heck] of a second baseman because of all he learned.”
There wasn’t necessarily a specific moment that enhanced Washington’s confidence this winter. His satisfaction stemmed from Grissom's strides near the end of their first week together. That progress never showed any signs of decline when he returned for subsequent visits.
“I’m so proud of him, I really am,” Washington said. “It’s a career change in three weeks for him. It really is.”