The Atlanta Braves have shown they are not shy to call up prospects quickly, and on Wednesday afternoon made the somewhat surprising call to bring up Vaughn Grissom, their top overall prospect, to the major leagues. With Ozzie Albies and Orlando Arcia on the mend for presumably at least another month there was a huge need to fill that spot in the lineup and Grissom is the best hitter among the options at their disposal.
When the Braves brought Michael Harris up from Double-A it was a move that immediately turned heads, but it seemed to open the door for the possibility of the same happening for Grissom. While Grissom doesn’t carry the same level of pedigree he has hit at an elite rate at every level he’s played and has long gotten high marks for his makeup and maturity at the plate. The 21 year old Grissom was an 11th round pick in 2019 out of the same Florida high school as Tigers top prospect Riley Greene, but don’t let that pick number fool you. The Braves went well over slot to get Grissom that late and he was seen as a much better talent than an 11th rounder. He immediately raked in the Gulf Coast League as an 18 year old and then was put at the Braves alternate site for 2020 where he began to turn heads. Many expected 2021 to be a breakout year for Grissom and it was just that as he crushed to the tune of a 135 wRC+ at Low-A Augusta before earning a late call up to High-A. At Rome he was even more electrifying with an outrageous 196 wRC+ in a 12 game stint.
Vaughn Grissom ripped his third hit of the game the opposite way. He is the tying run in the ninth inning and stands on first base with two outs pic.twitter.com/JCVTKms4tN— Garrett Spain (@BravesMILB) May 14, 2022
Grissom was highly thought of going into 2022, and while no one was giving him top 100 consideration nationally those within the organization knew he was that caliber of prospect. He got off to a bit of a sluggish start in his second stint with Rome, but once his power production started to take off he put up otherworldly numbers. Starting on May 27th he put together a 45 game on base streak across two levels, during which he hit .372/.447/.574 with 8 home runs and 18 stolen bases. He earned a call up to Mississippi on July 12th and has not really slowed down as he has a 147 wRC+ at Double-A with a 14.3% strikeout rate and three home runs in 22 games.
Grissom’s calling card as a player is his hit tool, and it’s one of the better ones we've seen in recent memory. He has posted well-below-average strikeout rates at every level and has a knack for solid line drive contact to all fields. His ability to continue to make contact at a high rate as he’s advanced to Double-A and faced higher quality stuff is what has really pushed his prospect status up in recent weeks. Grissom can get beat by velocity up and can be a bit over-aggressive on breaking balls when he is ahead in the count, which are things he will have to iron out if he wants to continue to hit at the major league level. His spin recognition is plus and has shown an ability to stick on off speed stuff and hit it hard. This jump for him is a very big one, and he’s posted a 4.1% walk rate at Double-A which does give some hesitance to his readiness from an approach standpoint. He has a solid feel for the strike zone and doesn’t have any particular tendency to chase, but he’s aggressive on pitches in the zone and needs to be more selective with what he can and cannot drive with authority. This is an adjustment he still hasn’t fully made at the Double-A level and he’ll need to figure it out on the fly in the major leagues because it can lead to a lot of weak ground balls when he makes bad choices. His contact rate is great so I wouldn’t expect a huge uptick in strikeouts, but the key for him is being willing to spit on pitches early in counts that may be strikes but not necessarily pitches he is looking to hit hard.
Vaughn Grissom rips the first pitch he sees right back up the middle for a base hit pic.twitter.com/Ai8MwBdYyj— Garrett Spain (@BravesMILB) April 20, 2022
Grissom’s power was a question last season, but he’s increased his pull rate and power production this season in a way that doesn’t give me concern. I think his power will translate to the major league level, and while he only has three home runs in 22 games at Double-A this is coming at a brutal home ball park and league for power production. Overall he has 14 home runs in 96 games this season, which while not elite those rates along with his isolated power are still well above league averages, which is even more impressive given how much Rome and Mississippi’s home parks suppress power. Like his overall hitting ability his power will be more based on how selective he is with pitches. He can crush mistakes with regularity, but if he is too aggressive down in the zone he may not immediately hit for power at the major league level. His swing overall is contact and line drive oriented, he just has the raw strength to hit the ball out of the ballpark without focusing on that.
Vaughn Grissom goes wayyyyy out of the yard to give Rome an early lead. That is his third home run this year pic.twitter.com/ACi8oWy6wt— Garrett Spain (@BravesMILB) May 13, 2022
The biggest question for Grissom is whether his long term defensive home is shortstop or not, but right now the answer is that he will be playing second base. Grissom has average range and instincts, but is prone to mistakes especially on throws. I think in the short term the move to second base covers a lot of his defensive warts and will make the transition to the major league level easier. He doesn’t have the defensive ability that Albies does and is at present a downgrade defensively at the position, but I don't think he’s a player that will be well below average. Right now I’d grade him as a below average to fringe average defensive second baseman. He has enough arm strength to make plays to his right that Albies may not, but doesn’t have the range of Albies or Arcia to cover ground at the position. While Harris was called up for his defensive ability and always had a floor due to being elite in center field, Grissom does not have that luxury and this move is made due to their confidence in his ability to hit. Another way he can help produce value is on the bases, and while he isn’t a burner he is a smart baserunner who uses his speed well and has had a high stolen base rate at Double-A. I don’t protect him as a 30 stolen base guy, but I think he can get to 20 with some regularity and be efficient at taking extra bases on base hits.
Overall I think that Grissom is at present the best healthy second baseman the Braves have. While I have come concerns about his approach and defensive ability he is simply a better hitter than Ehire Adrianza or any of the options at Triple-A. If he can play clean defense and avoid mistakes I think he can at the very least hold his own as a major league ball player. He still needs to develop to be the impact up-the-middle player I have the confidence he will be long term, but right now I could see him being an average major league hitter with serviceable defense at second base. He could also surprise us and make the transition to seeing major league pitching easily and be an above average player overall. I think Grissom will need some patience both from himself and from fans, but he is the best fit for this team at the position short term and is a player that evaluators and the organization love long term.