By JAY LeBLANC
The selection of Pedro Alvarez with the second overall pick made all the headlines, but the slugging third baseman from Vanderbilt isn’t the only top talent the Pittsburgh Pirates snagged in the 2008 draft. Texas high school outfielder Robbie Grossman looked like a potential first-rounder as a junior in 2007, but a less impressive senior season and what was perceived as a strong commitment to the University of Texas caused him to fall to the sixth round. The Pirates pounced and persuaded him to sign by offering a $1 million bonus - more than 10 of the 16 supplemental first-rounders got - and agreeing to pay his college tuition.
Because he signed just a day before the Aug. 15 deadline, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound switch-hitter appeared in only five games last summer for the Pirates’ Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate, hitting .188 in 16 at bats. A solid spring prompted the Pirates to assign Grossman to the Class A West Virginia Power to begin the 2009 season, and so far the 19-year-old has held his own against the mostly older South Atlantic League competition. Through 37 games, Grossman is hitting .284 with 10 doubles, a home run and 11 RBI, and he has been successful on 13 of his 15 stolen base attempts. He has fanned an alarming 54 times in 141 at bats, but his ability to take a walk has resulted in a solid .388 on-base percentage.
I recently had the chance to speak with Grossman - the 10th best prospect in the Pirates organization, according to Baseball America - while he and his Power teammates were in Hagerstown, Md., for a series against the Washington Nationals-affiliated Hagerstown Suns.
Q: What was your mindset heading into the 2008 draft? Some teams shied away from you because of your commitment to Texas.
A: I really thought about my options, and it took me a little while. After I got drafted by the Pirates I thought about it and decided I really wanted to play pro baseball. We came to an agreement, and here I am.
Q: You played for the U.S. Junior National Team during your high school days. How much did that help your development?
A: I thought it was just more fun than anything, to play with all these guys - a lot of my friends, some of the guys that went in the higher rounds - and getting to know them real well. And playing for your country - there’s nothing better than that.
Q: Do you try to get into the pitcher’s head, or do you just react to what’s thrown?
A: I stick with my plan at the plate every time and stick with my approach, and do what I can with the pitches he gives me.
Q: Are you more comfortable batting right-handed or left-handed? And does your approach change at all as a result of which batter’s box you’re standing in?
A: No, it doesn’t. I just stick with a plan - similar plans for both sides - and just try to drive the ball up the middle and put the barrel on the ball.
Q: What are some of your goals for your first full pro season?
A: Just enjoy it. Just soak up the lifestyle and play in 140 games.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: Guys like Derek Jeter - guys who play the game the right way and handle themselves well on and off the field.
Q: You’re often compared to Nate McLouth. Do you see the similarities?
A: Yeah, I see a lot of similarities. He’s a great player and I look up to him a lot.
Q: When it’s all said and done, do you think you’ll be a table-setter or a middle-of-the-order guy?
A: Whatever the team needs me to be. I can change my game to be both if needed.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Pirates?
A: As soon as they think I’m ready. I’m going to get my seasons in and do my time right now, and hopefully down the road it works out well for me.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009 - Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals; Zach Britton, Orioles; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates.
2008 - Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.