TEMPE, Ariz.—Twenty-four players were picked in the first round of the 2009 draft before the Angels selected Mike Trout.
Randal Grichuk was one of the 24.
Not only was Grichuk one pick ahead of Trout, but he, like Trout, was selected by the Angels and is also an outfielder. The two became friends as teammates in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2009.
After that, however, Trout’s career took off. Grichuk’s career was put on hold.
Trout was in the big leagues by the second half of 2011, and became one of the biggest stars of 2012.
Grichuk stalled at the Class A level, the victim of a strange trio of injuries that limited him to 117 games in his first two pro seasons. He tore a ligament 12 games into the 2010 season at low Class A Cedar Rapids, then broke his wrist diving for a fly ball. In 2011, his season started late as he recovered from a broken kneecap, after he fouled a ball off his knee during spring training.
“We took two different paths,” Grichuk said.
Grichuk said comparisons to Trout never bothered him. “I just knew I needed to stay on the field,” he said.
Eddie Bane, now a special assistant to the general manager with the Red Sox, was the scouting director who made the decision to select Grichuk and Trout.
“I know he was hurt, but I also think it’s human nature for a competitor to prove things, and he may have gotten out of doing what he does best,” Bane said. “He got himself back on track last year. He got back to doing what Randal Grichuk is capable of doing. And he can do plenty.”
Grichuk put together a solid season at high Class A Inland Empire in 2012, batting .298/.335/.488, playing in the Arizona Fall League and ranking as the Angels’ No. 6 prospect. Bane says that comparisons of Grichuk and Trout are unfair.
“But that is part of the game,” he said.
The Grichuk-Trout pairing brought back memories of a 1985 spring day in Lakeland, Fla. The Royals were playing the Tigers in an exhibition game. Gene Lamont was managing the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate at the time, but on this day he was with the big league team, hitting ground balls to infielders during batting practice.
“Hey Lamont, you bum,” an older fan shouted. “We could have had (Johnny) Bench and got stuck with you.”
Lamont, who was a catcher as a player, was the first-round pick of the Tigers coming out of high school in Illinois in 1965, the year Bench went in the second round to the Reds.
Lamont just smiled. “Nice to be remembered, I guess,” he said.
Grichuk still has plenty of time to create his own memories.
He, however, will probably never get past the unfair comparisons to Trout. It has to make Bane wonder if he would have been better off drafting Trout before Grichuk. The Angels, after all, did have Trout rated higher on their draft board.
Heck, Bane says that Trout was easily the No. 2 player on his draft list, behind only Stephen Strasburg, who went to the Nationals with the No. 1 pick.
Bane said there was no debate in the Angels’ draft room about taking Trout in the first round. The debate was on whether to gamble on Grichuk slipping to the supplemental round, where the Angels also had the 40th and 42nd pick overall.
“We went back and forth on Randal, Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards for the first-round pick (aside from Trout),” Bane said. “We just felt we better take (Grichuk) if we wanted him.”
The Rockies were the other team that showed strong interest in Grichuk, and they had both the 30th and 32nd picks in the draft. So the Angels surmised that Grichuk could certainly be gone by the time their supplemental picks came around.
As for which order to take Trout and Grichuk, that decision came down more to bargaining than talent.
Bane said that Trout’s agent, Craig Landis, was making “rumbles of wanting way-over-the-slot money. I felt, ‘OK, we’ll go the other way.’ ”
Both players ended up signing for the bonus amounts recommended by Major League Baseball for their draft slots. Grichuk received $1.24 million, and Trout got $1.215 million.
On top of that, Bane was able to get all four players he wanted, selecting Skaggs with the 40th pick and Richards with the 42nd.
Skaggs, one of four players the Angels traded to the Diamondbacks for Dan Haren in July 2010, made his big league debut last season and should be part of the Arizona rotation this year. Richards made his big league debut in 2011, and he was with the Angels the second half of last season.
So in truth, Grichuk has to hold himself up against not only Trout, but also Skaggs and Richards. So it’s up to him to make it a big league foursome.
“He’ll be there,” Trout said. “The name of the game is staying healthy. You can’t do anything in the trainer’s room. He’s had to deal with that, but he fought through it.”
Grichuk showed the flashes last year of what he is capable of when healthy, and he has a chance to build off that in 2013.