In just over a month with the Twins, Robbie Grossman has filled a gaping hole in the outfield and has been the answer for an offense in need of a catalyst.
That’s a significant development for a player who was just signed to a minor league contract May 16.
“It’s just a blessed opportunity to be here,” the switch-hitting Grossman said, “and I’m going to make the most of it.”
In 28 games with the Twins, the 26-year-old Grossman is batting .289 with five homers, 15 RBI and a .425 on-base percentage. Since May 20, his first game as a Twin, he has led the team in doubles (nine), RBI (15), walks (23) and on-base percentage (.425). And he is tied with Eduardo Nunez in runs over that stretch with 18.
Grossman is taking advantage of an opportunity he didn’t initially see in Minnesota when he considered signing during the offseason.
Drafted by Pittsburgh in 2008, Grossman was one of three players the Pirates sent Houston for Wandy Rodriguez in 2012. Always a good judge of balls and strikes, Grossman couldn’t hit enough, and he was released by the Astros in November.
He had offers from a handful of teams, including the Twins, who have long admired his flexibility in the outfield and potential at the plate. Grossman looked at the Twins roster and saw it full of impediments to playing time.
“We tried to sign him after Shane Robinson left,” said Rob Antony, Twins assistant general manager. “We thought of him in that role as an extra outfielder who can play all three outfield positions. He went with Cleveland because [Michael] Brantley was hurt and he felt it was a better opportunity there.
“He looked at our outfield with Danny Santana and [Oswaldo] Arcia, who was out of options, and [Eddie] Rosario, [Miguel] Sano and [Byron] Buxton. He went the Cleveland route.”
Grossman batted .231 with a homer in spring training with the Indians, failing to make the team. He began the season at Class AAA Columbus and was batting .256 on May 15, the date he could elect to become a free agent if he wasn’t yet in the major leagues. He opted for free agency.
“It just didn’t work out,” Grossman said of his time in Cleveland. “I felt like I should have been up there. I felt like I had a really good chance, as good of a chance as anyone in spring, and it didn’t work out then and it didn’t work out on the 15th.”
A few things had changed with the Twins by then. There were some injures. Buxton had been demoted to the minors. Rosario was on his way there.
When Grossman’s agent called the Twins on May 16, they jumped at the chance to sign him.
“He has the ability to hit and he has the ability to play all three outfield sports,” Antony said. “He can run enough, and I know he has good makeup. He’s a guy we thought would be a real good fit with us. I’m not sure we expected him to be doing as much as he has.”
Grossman spent one day at Class AAA Rochester before he was summoned to the Twins. He doubled off Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez in his debut May 20 and finished 3-for-4 with a home run. He hit .361 for the Twins in May, and manager Paul Molitor started batting him second against righthanded starters and third against lefthanders.
Only a .240 hitter in 190 games with Houston, Grossman feels he has figured some things out about hitting, but he knows he gets too patient at times. That when he thinks about one of his former Astros teammates, All-Star Jose Altuve, and how he knows when to be aggressive.
“As a younger player, I took too many pitches,” Grossman said. “I had the discipline part down, but it was just learning major league pitchers. When they miss, that was the only miss you’re going to get. When I knew when I was going to get a pitch and what this guy is trying to do, my approach just grew.”
With Grossman and leadoff hitter Eduardo Nunez, the Twins now have combination that gives them some punch at the top of the order. Defensively, Grossman has taken a couple bad routes on fly balls, but the club believes he’s a capable outfielder.
Now Grossman has to prove he can maintain his success. With Santana recently activated from the disabled list and Sano close to being healthy again, Grossman will have to hit to stay in the lineup.
“We have seen some things here that give you hope,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “He will take a walk and he’s got some power and he seems to be about equal from left and right [side]. Not that anyone has made the decision that he’s an answer, but he’s got himself in a position to get at-bats.”