‘All my childhood dreams came true’: Braves call up top prospect Vaughn Grissom

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

BOSTON – When his phone rang late Tuesday night, Vaughn Grissom had no idea why someone might be calling around midnight.

“I thought I was literally in trouble for something,” Grissom said.

Instead, he heard the news that changed his life, validating all his hard work to this point: The Braves were calling him up.

“I couldn’t even speak for a long time,” Grissom said. “All my childhood dreams came true. You think you’re going to react a lot easier and a lot better, and then it happened, and I thought I was having a heart attack.”

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The 21-year-old Grissom, Atlanta’s top prospect, immediately called his parents, who did not believe him. He alerted the rest of his family, his girlfriend and anyone who helped him reach this point – he was intent on not forgetting to tell anyone who may have impacted him throughout his journey. Then he hopped on a flight to Boston on Wednesday and showed up to work at an office that looks different than any other he’s reported to in his life.

On Wednesday afternoon, as Grissom was about to walk up the dugout steps and onto the field at historic Fenway Park, he stopped. “I don’t even know if I’m ready right now,” he said. So he took a couple of steps back and asked Michael Harris, another 21-year-old rookie, to watch him. Harris took a video of Grissom walking onto the field, surrounded by the Green Monster, Pesky’s Pole and more at one of baseball’s classic venues.

When Grissom talked to reporters before his big-league debut – which saw him in the starting lineup playing second base and batting ninth – he still didn’t know how to put everything into words. He has thought of all the hard work, like the late nights in the batting cage, and everything he’s done to reach this point. Every one of his supporters has come to mind because they all guided him throughout his childhood. This much is clear: Grissom cherishes this opportunity.

“As a kid, I never thought this was possible,” Grissom said. “Even up until sophomore year (of high school), there’s no question – I thought this was impossible, that’s it. Just seeing it kind of happen and seeing where the work paid off. Now realizing, getting to watch myself from the second point of view, I’m like, ‘Dude, you were always there. You were always right there.’

“I always believed in myself. I didn’t know how to compare myself or anything like that. So I was always just very humble and like, wow, this is very humbling right now. It’s incredible.”

Grissom, whose parents flew to Boston to see him play, went from playing in Tennessee with Double-A Mississippi to Fenway Park. When Grissom entered the clubhouse, he walked into manager Brian Snitker’s office to meet the skipper.

“I went in there just obviously going in to introduce myself, but then – you know how it goes – I just started smiling,” Grissom said. “He’s like, ‘Look at you, man! Look at you.’ It just got real, super real.”

Added Snitker about that moment: “I don’t know if he walked into my office or kind of glided in. I don’t know if his feet were touching the ground when I saw him. Which is pretty cool. That’s a neat thing. He’s such a likable young man.”

In his big-league debut, Grissom went 2-for-4 with a 412-foot, two-run home run and a single. He drove in two runs, scored two more and stole a base in Atlanta’s win over the Red Sox.

Like Harris, Grissom was called up from Double-A. Grissom took only 91 at-bats over 22 games at Double-A – less time at that level than even Harris, who had 174 – but he made the most of them. He hit .363 with a .924 OPS. He hit three doubles, a triple and three homers while driving in 12 runs.

Grissom began the season at High-A Rome, where he hit .312 with an .891 OPS over 298 at-bats before the promotion. He had 17 doubles, a triple, 11 homers and 55 RBIs.

On Wednesday, Grissom joined Harris when they hit in the cage. Grissom also worked with infield guru Ron Washington on the field almost four hours before the game. He’s here to work, but has still marveled at the sights and sounds of big-league life. Grissom even signed his name inside the Green Monster, which is a tradition for Fenway first-timers.

“I mean, honestly, he doesn’t know what to feel right now,” said Harris, who went through this in May. “We were in the cage. Think he said five different times that he’s actually up here in a big-league cage, at a big-league field, especially Fenway.”

The Braves selected Grissom in the 11th round of the MLB draft in 2019 out of Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida. He had the talent to be selected in a higher round, but the Braves weren’t sure if he would sign out of high school. MLB Pipeline ranked Grissom, the Braves’ top prospect, as the No. 98 prospect in baseball.

Ideally, the Braves would keep players such as Grissom in the minors for as long as possible to rack up reps. But needs arise at the big-league level, often unexpectedly. Grissom seemed destined to spend the rest of the season in the minors, especially with Ozzie Albies due back at some point. Then Orlando Arcia strained his hamstring Tuesday.

The unfortunate incident created a need for a team trying to win now, one that entered Wednesday seven games behind the first-place Mets. The Braves probably couldn’t afford to simply add another depth piece behind Ehire Adrianza, which seemingly would’ve been the case had they pulled from their Triple-A ranks.

So the Braves went with Grissom, a 6-foot-3 shortstop. The Braves view him as a high-energy guy with tremendous bat-to-ball skills. He doesn’t strike out a lot. He’s a smart and instinctive base runner. He could turn into an above-average defender, even if he has to move off shortstop because of his size.

Grissom has struck out only 14.3% of the time in the minors this season. He’s stolen 27 bases and has been caught only five times. This season, he’s made 76 starts at shortstop across two levels while starting only seven games at second base and six at third base. He’s expected to play second base for the Braves.

“I think No. 1, he’s going to bring energy,” Snitker said. “He’s a very energetic young man. They’ve talked about his bat-to-ball skills from the first day in spring training, when we don’t know who these guys are and we go over them.”

The Braves first scouted Grissom because he was high school teammates with Riley Greene, who went fifth overall to the Tigers in the draft that year. Tons of scouts were present for Greene, but Grissom started to grab the Braves’ attention.

Grissom’s call-up also continues a trend: Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos isn’t afraid to shuttle minor leaguers up to the big leagues if he feels they can contribute. Since Anthopoulos’ first season in 2018, the Braves have received 390 starts from players Grissom’s age or younger, which is the most in the majors over that span.

Grissom is the third-youngest player in the majors, behind Harris and Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco. Before Grissom and Harris, the last time the Braves had two 21-year-old position players in the starting lineup was 2018, when Ronald Acuña and Albies were that age.

Since Grissom’s good news broke, his phone has blown up with calls and texts. “Geez, it’s incredible,” Grissom said. He joked that it would take him four days to respond to everyone.

As Grissom recalled the special experience of receiving the call, he began to get the same feelings again.

“Just the way it happened, it was perfect,” he said. “You couldn’t script it any better.”