If there is one player on the San Diego Padres‘ roster that could truly be considered a wild card heading into the 2014 season, that player would have to be catcher Yasmani Grandal. After bursting on the scene in 2012, Grandal’s .297 batting average, .394 on-base percentage and 8 home runs in 192 at bats to finish up the season left Padres fans with a good taste in their mouths heading into the offseason. Unfortunately, the taste would soon become sour when the league announced during the offseason that Grandal would be suspended the first 50 games of the 2013 season due to a positive test for performance enhancing drugs.
As with any player who follows playing excellent baseball with a PED suspension, Padres fans were left to wonder how good a player Grandal actually was heading into the 2013 season. Was his stellar play a result of his natural talent or his use of performance enhancing drugs? Well, as we head into the 2014 season we still don’t really have an answer to that question, as Grandal’s 2013 season lasted only 28 games due to a horrific knee injury he suffered in early July — horrific to the tune of a torn ACL.
As far as his performance in those 28 games, Grandal wasn’t quite the same hitter in 2012 as he was in 2013, as his .216 batting average and one home run in 88 at bats before the knee injury was a far cry from his production in the previous season. Casual baseball fans may have written off Grandal based on his 2013 performance thinking that without performance enhancing drugs he could no longer be the player we saw in 2012, but I would advise them to hold off a bit on those thoughts.
Only 88 at bats from a player that was most likely pressing at the plate trying to prove the very opposite of that PED based successful 2012 rationale, is not nearly enough to gauge a valid conclusion. We’re still talking about a player with only 288 total at-bats in the big leagues here.
Given a 9-12 month estimated time of recovery after surgery, initial thoughts were that because we were talking about a serious knee injury to a player who plays a position that places so much strain to the knee, Grandal would more than likely return on the latter end of that recovery time frame. While that rationale definitely seemed logical, based on the way things are looking early this spring Grandal is actually on track for opening day, meaning he could actually beat the nine month minimum.
Why Grandal is not getting Adrian Peterson like attention in the city of San Diego right now is beyond me because if he does find himself behind the plate on opening day, he should be commended and celebrated for his hard work, dedication and determination to return to action so quickly.
Bottom line: If Grandal can return to his 2012 form, the Padres will have a much better offense than expected. Anytime you can get good offensive production from the catcher position is a huge plus. The fact that we still have no idea how good a hitter Grandal actually is makes him the wild card to the Padres’ offense, as we don’t know what flash of performance was more indicative of his true talent, the flash in 2012 or the flash in 2013.
With top-catching prospect Austin Hedges breathing down his neck and creating such a buzz around baseball, Grandal might not have much leash to work with this season. The 2013 version of Grandal will more than likely find himself replaced eventually, but, the 2012 version of Grandal would give the Padres a dynamic that they haven’t had since having Mike Piazza in 2006, truly solidifying his spot in the lineup.
Both Grandal and Hedges living up to the hype means the Padres’ will have a good problem on their hands. I look forward to seeing if Grandal can do his part in presenting the Padres with that problem.