Tony Sanchez, my #8 prospect Robbie Grossman hangs his hat on being able to get on-base, but more on that later. Grossman is indicative of a philosophical change that Neal Huntington ushered in concerning the draft. The outfielder -who signed for exactly one million dollars rather than go to the University of Texas - is the first player the Pirates gave a seven-figure bonus to that was drafted outside of the first round since pitcher Chris Young in 2000.
Heading into the 2008 draft, Grossman got plenty of love. Baseball America ranked him as their 49th best prospect heading into the draft. After his junior year, he seemed like a first round talent, but had a less than stellar senior campaign that dropped him a bit in the draft. Grossman's loss was the Pirates gain and they took him in the 6th round, 174th overall and added him to the system via the aforementioned million dollar bonus. Scouts like Grossman's solid tools across the board, although he lacked a stand out tool. However, that lack of a standout tool - specifically power and speed - compelled experts to throw out the label 'tweener."
Grossman got into 5 games for the GCL Pirates in 2008, hitting .188 and stealing a base. Heading into the next season, Grossman was ranked as the Pirates 9th best prospect by John Sickels and given a C+ ranking. In 2009, the outfielder was sent directly to Low-A West Virginia, an aggressive assignment. There, he showed some positive signs - a .373 OBP, 14.0% walk rate, and 35 stolen bases - but also had his struggles, highlighted by only a .89 ISO and 30.7% strikeout rate.
Grossman's 2009 performance earned him another C+ grade from Sickels although he dropped to #14 on the 2010 top 20 list. As far as his 2010 placement, the Pirates continued to be aggressive. Grossman was promoted to High-A Bradenton. Although Grossman's average, and thus his OBP, dipped, the outfielder showed improvement elsewhere. He maintained a high walk rate of 11.7% and cut his strikeout rate by nearly 10% from 30.7% to 21.0%. Grossman also managed a tick more power, posting a .100 ISO rate. On the downside, only stolen bases meant a decrease of twenty stolen bases compared to the year prior
Despite a few positive attributes, namely the cut down in strikeouts, Grossman's year was a poor one overall. It knocked him out of the top 20 according to Sickels. The Pirates also were concerned with Grossman's struggles, and instead or promoting him to Altoona, he was returned to Bradenton to repeat the level. The Pirates seemingly chose correctly as repeating did wonders for Grossman who enjoyed a true breakout season this past year.
In fact, in 2011, Grossman put up career best numbers in virtually every important statistically category, save stolen bases. Even in that department he improved, stealing 24 bases, nine more than in 2010. Grossman showed an improved hit tool, hitting .293. He improved his plate discipline and thus his OBP, nearly walking more than he struck out, with 104 free passes and 111 punch outs. That meant a ridiculous 16.9 BB% and a more than acceptable 18.0 K%. In fact, he was the first player in the minor leagues since Nick Swisher to walk 100 times and score 100 runs. Grossman also showed improved power, hitting 13 home runs for a ISO of .157. All that improvement earned Grossman the nod as the minor league player of the year in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
In addition, it caused his prospect status to sore. Sickels now ranks Grossman as the Pirates #5 prospect, giving him a B grade and stating about him, "If he had fulfilled his commitment to the University of Texas, 2011 would have been his draft year. I know he was repeating High-A, but a player jumping from the college ranks to High-A, hitting .294/.418/.451, then ripping up the Arizona Fall League would be getting an awful lot of praise, not skepticism. I also think that Grossman's tools are better than commonly reported. I expect he'll provide gap power with some speed and a high OBP, and that's valuable." Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law over at ESPN both ranked him in their top 100 list at #76 and #86 respectively.
2012 will be a big year for Grossman. He will almost certainly be at Altoona, reaching the upper echelon of the minor leagues. Grossman's patience at the plate should again be his calling card, and allow him to post elite OBP numbers. On the flipside, he will need to show continued improvement with his hit tool and power. At this point in his career, it looks like Grossman will be relegated to a corner outfield spot. He should be plus there, but that will put more pressure on his bat. At only twenty-two years of age, I have no doubt in my mind that he can continue to make those adjustments. He may never hit the prototypical 25 homeruns desired of a corner outfielder, but his ability to get on base and grinder mentality give him a high ceiling and an even higher floor. That's why Robbie Grossman is my #6 Pirates prospect.