I wouldn't blame you if his name has never rung a bell. Maybe it would shock you to know that Robbie Grossman has actually played in roughly 180 games before his Twins debut late last month. Nevertheless, he was someone that wasn't anyone special, and all of a sudden he's become the hottest hitter in the lineup.
Grossman was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 6th round of the 2008 draft and eventually joined the Houston Astros as part of the return in the Wandy Rodriguez trade in 2012. While in the minors, Grossman utilized his patient approach at the plate to make it on to Top 100 prospect lists and he appeared to be a building block for the rebuilding Astros.
Except, well, that never happened. Grossman had an adequate major league debut in 2013, hitting .268/.332/.370 in just under 300 plate appearances. He certainly lacked power but drew a fair share of walks and improvement in his sophomore season would lead to him becoming the corner outfielder of the future. However, despite a significant uptick in walks, Grossman's batting average cratered and his power still didn't appear, slashing .233/.337/.333 in 422 plate appearances in 2014. Last season, he was banished to the minor leagues for most of the year thanks to the trio of Jake Marisnick, George Springer, and Colby Rasmus. Even when he did see time in the majors, he was unable to take advantage as his batting average plummeted to .143, thanks to a .194 BABIP and a strikeout rate that ballooned to over 30%.
With the addition of Carlos Gomez and the return of Rasmus, there simply was no room for Grossman anymore and he was released after the conclusion of the 2015 season. He latched on with the Cleveland Indians and looked to perhaps have a chance of cracking the roster with the suspension of center fielder Abraham Almonte and injuries to left fielder Michael Brantley and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, but the Indians chose instead to give opportunities to rookie Tyler Naquin and veterans Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis. With no chance of earning a call-up, Grossman chose to exercise his mid-May opt-out and became a free agent.
Considering he was never considered to have much power, it's been a surprise to see Grossman running a .288 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) thus far, a number that tops even the power duo of Miguel Sano and Byung Ho Park. While it's a number that certainly will drop with time, perhaps it shouldn't be that much of a surprise. You see, while Grossman was biding his time in Triple-A for the Indians, he hit .256/.370/.453 with his usual above-average plate discipline. You may be wondering, Okay, so what? Well, that was by far the best power output of his minor league career with the exception of his showing in the Arizona Fall League back in 2011. Sure, he had a better slugging percentage during his 2014 Triple-A season, but he never had a better isolated power than his time with the Indians. It pains me to say that it's very likely a small sample issue, but there's always the possibility that Grossman figured something out and has used that to tap into some power that he never possessed before.
The second key for Grossman has been a lowered strikeout rate. He's been around 25% for his career and I already mentioned that he maxed out at 31% during his brief showing in 2015. However, this season he has gotten that under 20% and his normally solid plate discipline has become even better as he's walked just as often as he's struck out.
Finally, there are the unfortunate caveats that must be pointed out. First, that Grossman's BABIP is currently at .378, much higher than even a speedy slap hitter could accomplish. Second, that his walk rate is currently at "elite" and it's far more reasonable that it will settle in to the "very good" range. On the other hand, he still is relatively young (turns 27 in September) and it's entirely possible that this one-time prospect might finally be putting it all together.
Though he may come back down to earth, Grossman has greatly anchored left field after watching Eddie Rosario and Oswaldo Arcia flop. Though his presence has taken away chances for Max Kepler, his addition should be recognized as a successful move by general manager Terry Ryan in this difficult season.