AFL Gives Grossman Another Chance To Shine





PHOENIX—Robbie Grossman is causing a lot of scouting reports to be rewritten this fall. The Pirates outfield prospect, a sixth-round draft choice out of a Texas high school in 2008, has often been regarded as a tweener, with not enough power to play a corner outfield position and not enough range to play center field.

His performance in the Arizona Fall League is proving otherwise. The 22-year-old switch-hitter from Cypress, Texas, is tied for the league lead with six home runs and ranks third in OPS at 1.135, with a batting line of .381/.480/.655 after the season's first four weeks. Grossman's power surge builds on his regular season tally of 13 homers, a big jump from a combined total of nine during his first two full seasons.

It's safe to say that Grossman is doing better than projected this fall.

"He's been very consistent and I think it has exceeded my expectations," said Mesa Solar Sox hitting coach Jeff Branson, the Pirates' batting coach at Triple-A Indianapolis during the regular season. "I never imagined a guy coming out of A-ball to be this consistent day in and day out."

Grossman, who started switch-hitting during his senior year of high school, attributes the emerging power to his getting more comfortable from the left side of the plate. Thus far in his career he's consistently posted a better average from his natural righthanded side. While his average as a righthanded batter was again higher in 2011, he hit 11 of his 13 home runs from the left side and all six of his AFL bombs have been off righthanded pitchers.

"It's starting to come around," Grossman said. "I'm starting to figure out what I can do and what kind of player I am, and putting good swings on the ball."

Branson sees the significant improvement in Grossman with every at-bat. "It comes back to your approach at the plate," Branson said, "cutting your plate in half and not trying to cover both sides . . . you're keeping it in more of a smaller area.

"He's done a tremendous job of that and that's attributed to the consistency of his approach every time he goes to the plate."

In addition to the power coming out this year, Grossman also significantly improved his plate discipline. He walked 104 times at high Class A Bradenton of the Florida State League, up from 66 bases on balls earned in 2010 in his first pass at High-A ball. The total of 104 was enough to lead all minor league players in walks, edging Texas League leader Jaff Decker by one. He's continued the trend in the AFL, drawing 17 walks in 21 AFL games while facing more advanced pitching.

Grossman attributes the increase in walks to the fact that he's been swinging the bat better. "When you get a couple of hits in the first two at-bats," Grossman said, "you just don't see as many pitches to hit after that. That was the biggest difference . . . I just swung the bat better. I always had a pretty good eye."

Grossman is drawing raves for more than just his offensive improvement. Scouts are grading his outfield range as average and his arm a tick above average. While he primarily played right field during the regular season and for the Solar Sox so far this fall, Grossman is confident that he can handle all three outfield positions as he moves higher in the Pirates organization.

It's been a rough two decades for the Pirates at the major league level, with 19 straight losing seasons, but Grossman's glad to be part of a new wave of talent coming through the system. "I'm excited just to see what the future holds for us," Grossman said, "because we've got a lot of talented guys coming up. I can't wait to play with some of the guys. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Grossman has become a fan favorite at Solar Sox games, as observers have caught on to his "all out" hustling style on the field. He says that's the only way he knows to play.

"Be competitive every day and leave everything out on the field," Grossman said about how he approaches every game, "and the rest will speak for itself."

FALL GUYS

• Cubs shortstop prospect Junior Lake has been a difficult player to project, as his performance on the field generally hasn't matched up to the Dominican Republic native's raw physical abilities. Some baseball observers believe that he would benefit from a move to the mound to take advantage of his plus-plus arm. But Lake is starting to change opinions with his performance in the AFL this fall. The 21-year-old righthanded batter smacked his fifth homer of the fall season on Saturday, another long bomb onto the outfield berm at Mesa's Hohokam Stadium. He's got raw power not often seen from a young shortstop.

But it's Lake's performance on the base paths that may earn the tall, lanky infielder a spot in the AFL record books. Lake has stolen 13 bases in as many attempts with just a little more than half of the season completed. The league record of 24 was set in 1994 by Phillies prospect Rick Holifield; that year the AFL played a 51-game schedule compared to the 38 games on tap for each team in 2011.  Lake also stole a combined 38 bases at two levels during the 2011 regular season, but he doesn't have any big revelations as to why he's turned into a big stolen base threat. "I'm just working hard because that's part of the game," Lake said, though a translator. "That's what my job is."

Bryce Harper (Nationals) finished the week with a blast, smashing home runs in three straight games to boost his season line to .259/.339/.556 with four homers in 54 at-bats. Harper played just three games last week, going 5 for 12 with 10 RBIs.

• The AFL's annual Rising Stars Game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5 at Surprise Stadium, beginning at 7:10 p.m. Eastern, and will be telecast live on MLB Network. Gerrit Cole (Pirates) and Danny Hultzen (Mariners), the top two picks in the 2011 draft, will be the starting pitchers. The remainder of the rosters will be announced this week.