Can Trent Grisham climb back up the mountain?

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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Two years ago, Trent Grisham broke out with a career year in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Grisham posted 2.5 WAR in 59 games (6.9 WAR in a full season). He blasted ten home runs, had a 123 OPS+ (23% better than league average), and won a gold glove.

Pretty impressive for a 23-year-old.

He looked like the future centerfielder of the Padres, a player who could hit the ball well and play fantastic defense for years to come. However, after a mediocre 2021 season and a terrible 2022, the perception around Grisham has changed. He’s 26 years old now, and he’s coming off a season where he hit .184/.284/.341. He watched his strikeout rate leap from high to unacceptable. He watched his batting average and slugging percentage crater. Grisham even began to lose time in center field to soft-hitting rookie Jose Azocar.

However, Grisham comes into 2023 with very real hope that he can take a step forward and return to his younger self.

That hope, at least somewhat, was sparked by his success in the playoffs. Grisham mashed three home runs in the Padres’ first six postseason games, taking Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Andrew Heaney out of the yard, powering the Padres to the NLCS for the first time in 24 years. 

San Diego’s new superhero had a chance to ascend to a new level against the Philadelphia Phillies. Even after a torrid series, where he went 0-for-18 to start the series, he could save the Padres. They trailed by a run with one out in the ninth inning. Brandon Drury stood on second, Ha-Seong Kim on first. Grisham faced Ranger Suarez, a starting pitcher making a rare relief appearance. A single would tie the game. An extra base hit would keep San Diego’s World Series hopes alive for another day. With the season on the line, Grisham stepped into the box…and laid down a bunt. He was thrown out at first. One pitch later, Grisham’s and the Padres’ season ended.

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As quickly as Trent Grisham, superhero, had arrived, he disappeared. He didn’t record a hit in 19 at-bats against the Phillies. He struck out nine times. 

So, despite a week in the spotlight, 2022 was nothing but a failure for the former first-round draft pick, right?

Not quite. Grisham, who picked up his second gold glove in three years, still managed a 2.6 WAR. That was ninth best among Padres’ players. It was a complete and utter disaster of a season, and yet Grisham was still productive. He benefits from playing outstanding defense at arguably the toughest position in baseball. It’s a spot that has some of the weakest hitters in the league, which helps Grisham as well.


He’s going to get another chance to start in center, with a lack of other options for the Padres. His impressive defense, which relies on his quick reactions and stellar instincts, is extremely sustainable. He doesn’t rely on elite speed, which fades with wear and tear over the course of a season, which helps him play at an incredible level all year long. At the plate, Grisham will need to step forward, but there’s a clear path to doing so.

The first step is to limit his strikeouts. He struck out 28.6% of the time in 2022, which ranks in the 11th percentile. He struck out just 24% of the time in his first three big-league seasons, and if Grisham can return to that, he’ll be much more successful. Another issue that Grisham struggled with was his launch angle. Line drives have the highest batting average and slugging percentage of any type of batted ball, but Grisham hit them just 14.5% of the time. Across his first three campaigns, that number was 27.8%, nearly double his 2022 numbers. That’s a big reason why Grisham had a .231 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2022. BABIP, which relies immensely on the type of batted ball that a hitter produces, often fluctuates from season to season. The former Brewer had never posted a BABIP worse than .292 in a season where he made more than 55 appearances before this season. 

If Grisham can reign in his strikeouts by just 2-3% while increasing the quality of his contact to his prior levels, he can easily be a league-average hitter in 2023. Being a league-average hitter at a position where most players are poor hitters would make Grisham a valuable player. Add in his 99th-percentile defense and his strong health, and it’s very easy to see Grisham put together a 4+ WAR campaign. If Grisham gets some luck to go his way, he could easily be an All-Star in six months. 

San Diego needs Trent Grisham to reach his potential for them to achieve their goals in 2023. He’s very capable. It’s time to see if he can adjust and improve on a dreadful 2022.

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