Robbie Grossman spent spring training doing everything possible to become the outfielder he used to be.
He invested his energy into drills to improve his footwork. The Twins decided that he needed to soften his hands, so he no longer jams his entire hand into his glove.
Grossman felt he made progress. And just when he was ready to prove it as the Twins extra outfielder, they made him a designated hitter.
“It’s crazy how your career works,” Grossman said. “You have your ups and your downs. I never thought of myself as a DH.”
That’s where Grossman, 27, helps the Twins’ young and walk-hungry offense the most. He works counts. His 14.1 percent walk rate led the team last season. He’s a switch-hitter who is a career .286 against lefthanded pitchers but hit .344 against them in 2016.
So he was a perfect fit for the second spot in the batting order on Monday as the Twins outlasted Royals lefty Danny Duffy, then pulled away to a 7-1 win. Grossman struck out three times but walked twice, including once with the bases loaded that forced in a run.
By the way, two walks in five at-bats is a .400 on-base percentage.
“He probably has a high percentage in at-bats that end up as a non-play because of his walks, and he can strike out, too,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “You want guys who can hit. But between pitch count and getting base-runners, those are important too.”
ByungHo Park batted .353 with six home runs during spring training and seemed to be a lock as the DH. The Twins had other ideas and decided not to add him to the 40-man roster. There are indications that the plan is to give Kennys Vargas a shot to prove he can be a force in the majors, but he delayed his arrival by not getting many at-bats with Team Puerto Rico during the World Baseball Classic, then fouling a ball off his foot nearly two weeks ago after he returned from the tournament.
Vargas is working his way back to full health. Grossman will be the DH until Vargas is ready or something forces the Twins to summon Park.
“Grossman is going to get a fair portion of those at bats,” Molitor said.
Grossman signed with the Twins on May 16 last season after opting out of his minor league deal with Cleveland. He played one game for Class AAA Rochester before being called up to the Twins. He batted .280 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI and 55 walks in 99 games, and his .828 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) percentage was third among switch hitters. He showed his patience at the plate, although he struck out 96 times — many of them looking.
His defense was a disaster. He was charged with eight errors in 637 ⅓ innings. Before joining the Twins, he committed six errors in 1,547 ⅔ innings over the previous three seasons.
And there were times where he misread fly balls so badly it was as if he was running a post route on some of them.
“The whole thing for me was just confidence,” Grossman said. “I lost my confidence. Early in my career I was a defensive guy. Now I’m talking about DH roles. It’s crazy how this game works.
“But I learned things. I’m going to take the positive out of them and I’ve worked really hard on some of things. I’m ready to prove my worth.”
Outfield duty will have to wait, since the Twins need him to draw walks and punish lefthanders. Grossman might not be the prototypical DH, but the Twins aren’t into prototypical hitters. Heck, they batted Joe Mauer cleanup on Monday.
“Everyone thinks that DHs are supposed to be these Jose Canseco-looking guys who hit home runs,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “Robbie is a good hitter from both sides of the plate. He can spray the ball around and can get on base. I like him.”