Vaughn Grissom spoke with reporters Tuesday for the first time since the Braves chose Orlando Arcia as their shortstop.
Grissom, 22, was vying for the Braves’ opening-day shortstop job this spring. The Braves always said they’d have a competition for the spot, which opened up when free agent Dansby Swanson departed for the Cubs, but Grissom entered the spring a perceived favorite by outsiders. He was competing with the veteran Arcia and Braden Shewmake, a former first-round pick who had an excellent exhibition season himself.
The trio performed well during spring training. Grissom was 13-for-35 (.371) with two doubles and six RBIs. Shewmake hit .323 (10-for-31) with a double, triple and five RBIs. Arcia was 14-for-41 (.341) with three homers and nine RBIs.
The Braves opted for Arcia, 28, sending Grissom and Shewmake, 25, to Triple-A Gwinnett in a move that still surprised fans, along with some evaluators and media, who expected one of the younger players to earn the job. Grissom spoke with reporters during Gwinnett’s media day Tuesday.
“They told me I was going to Gwinnett and that they were going with the veteran player,” Grissom said. He added he “wasn’t really surprised” by the outcome.
“Just more for a mindset thing and just putting myself in that situation where, yeah, I felt like I was the guy,” Grissom said when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked if he felt he’d be the Braves’ shortstop during spring training. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Now, Grissom will play mostly shortstop in Gwinnett, getting reps as he tries to develop defensively. He said he’s willing to play left field and second base – which is what he handled during his MLB-debut stretch last season – but shortstop is the focus.
Defense is the common knock on Grissom’s game. At 6-foot-3, he’s already considered an unconventional shortstop. There were mixed results in spring, with Grissom making some flashy plays but also showing why he’s a work in progress.
The AJC asked Grissom about those who criticize his defense.
“They probably can’t play defense, so … ‚” he said. “I don’t listen to sheep, know what I’m saying? If Wash (third-base coach Ron Washington) was telling me those things, I’d listen and read it. It might mean something to me. But a bunch of people who’ve probably never played baseball or didn’t make the baseball team, ended up writers or whatever it is they’re doing.
“Sometimes it can be what they feel. Sometimes it’s just what they heard from someone who heard something from someone else. So no one’s really out there unless you’re with the coaching staff or with the boys. It’s all noise.”
The AJC followed by asking Grissom how he feels he’s progressed defensively.
“Just all around, and I feel like just repetitions and just slowing the game down,” he said. “But I just feel like just still playing baseball. It’s just picking up the ball and throwing it over and trying to think about it too much.
“There are still so many plays that I haven’t even had yet. There are so many plays that haven’t even developed in the right way, you know, I don’t want to say question marks, but there are so many things in game that - the opportunity hasn’t been there, because balls can be hit 1,050,000 different types of ways. So it’s all about just reacting and just like reacting to what’s given. Whatever the play’s written, that’s what we’ve got to solve. So it’s just like I said, it’s an experience thing. Eventually the balls will be hit over there, over there, whatever the question marks are, but I’m sure that they’ll come in this time.”
Perhaps a door opens for Grissom and Shewmake later in the season. In the meantime, the friends will work together in the Gwinnett middle infield. Shewmake will play mostly second base, since the team already knows he’s excellent at shortstop, but he says he’ll handle both positions. His focus will be on continued offensive growth.
“Vaughn had a great camp,” Shewmake said. “I feel like I had a great camp as well. So did Orlando. He has the experience, so I think that’s what we’re going with right now, the experience. And we know how fast things can change. As of right now, that’s what they decided to go with and we respect their decision. Orlando is a great player. Grissom is too. I think he’s going to do a fine job.”
Shewmake said of his friendship with Grissom: “We have a great relationship. We talk on a daily basis whether we’re at the field or not. We talked to each other during camp, we said, ‘Look, if it’s me or if it’s you, it’s not going to matter because we know, 1) I love you and know how good of a player you are, but 2) you’d have earned it.’ So we feel like we did really well. Orlando is playing awesome right now, too. So I think there are three guys who could’ve earned that and there was no wrong decision by them.”