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Braves Prospect Profile: Vaughn Grissom

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The best hitter in the system for the Braves this season: Augusta and Rome’s super utility infielder Vaughn Grissom

Photo Credit: Mills Fitzner

The Atlanta Braves have made a team for themselves building out of young up-the-middle players with tremendous talent. Their most recent add to that list is shortstop Vaughn Grissom, a 20-year old who could be a star for years to come. Grissom doesn’t come as a player who immediately received hype and is still working to earn that from the national media, but those around the Braves system have seen a special hitting talent go to work for a couple of years now. Looking at Vaughn Grissom’s draft slot may leave you less than impressed, but there is far more behind that 11th round pick than talent. Grissom slid to day three of the 2019 MLB draft as a priority late round pick and the Braves were ecstatic to scoop him off the board with their first pick of day three and hand him an overslot deal befitting of a fifth round pick. Grissom immediately outplayed expectations in his debut season by producing pure hitting numbers above where many thought he was and vaulted himself into recognition among the Talking Chop crew.

Unfortunately for Grissom the pandemic slowed his breakout campaign, but behind the scenes, the groundwork was being laid for one of the more impressive seasons a Braves prospect has put up in the past decade. Grissom was named to the alternate site for the Braves, already a high mark for an 11th round prep bat after just one half season of professional baseball. Grissom went to the alternate site and impressed the entire way, leading to glowing reports on his maturity at the plate, his raw hitting ability, and the athleticism that has now made him one of the biggest names in the system. When the 2021 season kicked off Grissom was among the first the crew set to putting eyes on and after a three game slump to kick off the year he went on a tear that previewed things to come.

The power early this season was not an impressive point for Grissom, but he just kept hitting and carried a respectable .342 on base percentage and 14.9% strikeout rate through the end of May. This was, by a large margin, the worst month he would have on the year as he went on a tear through June. His walk rates ticked up as he got rolling on the season and he posted a .385 OBP in June and started to show power with seven extra base hits. Unfortunately he was interrupted a bit when a minor injury sent him to the injured list for a couple of weeks, but when he came back on July 14th he was the best hitter in the system from that day forward. Grissom played 12 games in July and had an on base percentage sitting at an absurd .547 with three home runs and a .738 slugging percentage. He came back down to earth in August as the home runs evaporated but still continued to get on base at an absurd pace and continued to maintain an on base percentage over .400 on the season. September started off with a bang as he went 2-5 with a double, and then late in the season the Braves made an aggressive move to push Grissom to High-A Rome for the final weeks. Met with the biggest challenge of his career Grissom flourished, with a batting line of .378/.519/.595 and 11 walks to 5 strikeouts. Read that again if you need to. Vaughn Grissom walked over 20% of the time while striking out less than 10% of the time.

Grissom’s overall numbers on the season are jaw-dropping and can compare with anyone the Braves have put through during the rebuild. His 143 wRC+ is second in the Braves system overall and his .418 on base percentage cruised to the top of the charts with no one else even cracking .400. His overall numbers can compare with anyone in minor league baseball, as despite being only 20 years old his 14.3% strikeout rate ranked in the best 5% of any minor league player of any age at any level. His walk to strikeout ratio raises the bar a bit more and puts him in the top 3% of all minor league players. Only one player in all of minor league baseball was both younger than Vaughn Grissom and posted a better strikeout to walk ratio. His second half of the season was off the charts performance, as over those 49 games he put up a .356/.458/.537 line which is good for a 170 wRC+. He walked more often than he struck out - 13.6% walk rate and 12.6% strikeout rate - a ratio that put him in the top 1% of all minor league baseball players. He managed to get better as the season wore on, and showed power in flashes that earned him 5 home runs over that last half of the season. While that can’t yet compete with the top guys in the system a 20 year old shortstop with elite hitting numbers and 15 home run pop is absolutely a good sign.

Numbers are fine, but what is it that makes Vaughn Grissom special at the plate? Simply put, he is better than anyone else on the field, he knows it, and he approaches the game better than anyone else around him. Guys at this age who have the ability to work counts like Vaughn does and show selectiveness with pitching is rare for any system to produce. Combine that with plus bat speed, an impressive ability to find the barrel, and an approach that rockets line drives around the field and you have a guy that is an on base machine. While many prospects the Braves have produced struggle in one area or another when it comes to hitting as of yet Grissom simply hasn’t reached a level that even hints at those flaws. He improved his approach on offspeed stuff after a shaky first month and took off in a way few players do. That’s the most tantalizing thing about Grissom. He is so difficult to get out at the plate consistently, and he has yet to run into a level of competition that is able to expose flaws in his game. The little he has struggled he has quickly adjusted to and overcome, a skill that will serve him well at the next level.

Grissom’s power doesn’t show consistently in games yet but the raw power is there to do major damage at the big league level. Grissom’s 6’3 inch frame has plenty of room to add strength and he already produces bat speed and exit velocities that impress in batting practice and allow him to go on bursts of power output that rival many of the top players in the system. While his overall line drive approach may limit his power output there is still plenty of room for him to produce 20-25 home run seasons and should he set him mind to it he could certainly crack 30. His overall offensive profile is strikingly similar to Arizona’s phenomenal second baseman Ketel Marte - a level of play teams would be begging to have join their lineup. Grissom is the prototype for what a leadoff hitter should be. While the presence of Ronald Acuna Jr. may ultimately push him off of that spot, if the Braves decide to give Ronald more at bats in run producing spots Grissom could be the heir to that role. He has the ability to spark an offense and at times would take over for a struggling Augusta team, and his entire approach is built around getting on base at a high clip. Line drive with high exit velocities produce the quality of contact he needs to sustain a high BABIP, a low strikeout rate gives his batted ball proficiency a chance to shine, and his eye at the plate and extremely advanced approach can allow him to rack up walks and consistently get on base in front of the middle of the Braves lineup.

There are, as with any 20 year old, flaws to speak of in Grissom’s profile. For example he struggled against left handed pitching, where their use of changeups can still cause problems for Grissom. Struggled being a relative term, as his strikeout rate was still just a tick above 20% and he was able to consistently produce competitive at bats. The biggest problem is his propensity for ground balls, which just do not have the ability to produce value the way hard hit fly balls and line drives do. This was something that Grissom worked at consistently over the season, as early in the year he had a ground ball rate at nearly 6-% which worked it’s way down to just a hair over 40% in his games with Rome. That’s one of the things that sets Grissom apart from your run-of-the-mill low strikeout hitter. He has a strong ability to adjust his approach at the plate and learn how to hit, and as he lifted the ball more frequently he tapped into his power potential down the stretch in a way that was encouraging for his future.

The biggest question around Vaughn Grissom is whether that shortstop position is his ultimate defensive home. Does he add strength to increase his raw power, taking a step off of his speed and forcing him to move positions? Does he try to remain lighter and quicker, thus robbing him of some of his ultimate power potential? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Grissom certainly has the athleticism and glove work to stick at shortstop, it may not be the best way to maximize his value. It's been floated the idea of using him as a super-utility player and the Braves are already building the foundation for that by having him play all over the infield the season. He certainly could fill the role Martin Prado did for many years, but could do it as a player with more power and on base potential.

Regardless of the defensive home, really this flaw is almost nitpicky. If he hits he will be in the major leagues. The Braves will find a place for him and they will do whatever needs to happen to find him a spot in the lineup. He is that type of hitter, and he’s the type of athlete that can absolutely do whatever they ask him at an acceptable to above average level. MLB teams will find a spot for a young player who can hit a baseball and Grissom is unlikely to be so bad at the shortstop position that he is unplayable there. Even if he is a fair bit below average all he has to do is hit a bit above average and the difference between an average offensive shortstop and him would quickly play its way in Grissom’s favor.

Grissom is not a sure thing, and no 20 year old is. His issues with changeups and other off speed stuff could be a fatal flaw, but there is plenty of reason to believe his ability to adjust will overcome that. The question may be how quickly he can move. He’ll get an opportunity next season to go as far as the bat takes him. The Braves have shown time and time again that if you hit they will move you up the ladder until you are being challenged enough. Grissom is the type of talent and is advanced enough at the plate that if he stays healthy he could easily push his way into Double-A or even Triple-A next season. A fair estimate would put him at 2024 for making it to the major leagues, but there’s a real possibility he could contribute in 2023 if that’s what the Braves need from him. Not to say that should be expected, but to repeat the earlier point: If Vaughn Grissom hits like this he will get an opportunity to advance quickly and he will be given a place in the major leagues. Look at an Ozzie Albies, a player to whom Grissom has similar hitting talent and who doesn’t have an approach as good as Grissom’s even to this day. Albies was handed a Double-A assignment right after his first professional season, and by his third full season he had made it to the major leagues. If Grissom shows out in spring training, especially given what he did at High-A in a small sample, there is really no way you can discount the possibility of a similar assignment. More conservatively, Grissom spends half a season in High-A and half a season in Mississippi, which still puts him in striking distance of the major leagues by late 2023 to mid 2024.

If you look at Talking Chop’s midseason Top 30 prospects you’ll find Vaughn Grissom situated at number 12. I will tell you now that is far too low, and all of us see him as significantly higher on that list now. With a good season Grissom will be pushing hard for Top 100 or even better consideration going into 2023. There’s so much that can go wrong for a 20 year old that has never been above A-ball, but the talent for Grissom and the advanced approach to the game are tantalizing and can’t be ignored. He’s not can’t-miss, but he’s certainly a player that everyone who has spent time around him believes can make it to the major leagues and be a hell of a ballplayer. If you want a future on base machine who may also give you 20 home runs and play shortstop then you have your man in Vaughn Grissom. It's hard to watch Grissom and not get excited as you see him transform in just a single season into one of the best hitters in all of minor league baseball. Given time, he may just become one of the best pure hitters in baseball as a whole.