Randal Grichuk already feeling right at home with Blue Jays

One of the new Blue Jays Randal Grichuk is excited to get caught up in Yankees and Red Sox hype, to play alongside this bunch of super-talented players, and for Kevin Pillar to make him look good in the outfield.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Position players officially reported to Toronto Blue Jays spring training on Monday. By Thursday, Randal Grichuk already felt comfortable in his new surroundings.

"I’ve been here a week now, and I feel like I’ve been here for years," Grichuk said. "Joking with the guys, joking with the staff. They’ve been very welcoming and it makes me more excited for the season."

Acquired in January for reliever Dominic Leone and pitching prospect Conner Greene, Grichuk arrives in camp as the leading candidate for Toronto’s everyday right field job. He offers a combination of speed and power, and he’s looking forward to making an impression on his new bosses.

"Definitely," he said. "Any time you can get a fresh start, new eyes on you, new opportunity and going to a place where I have an opportunity to play every day."

Grichuk consistently provided power in St. Louis, averaging 21 home runs with a .496 slugging percentage from 2015-17. At the same time, his on-base percentage over that same period was just .298, largely because he struck out in approximately 30 per cent of his plate appearances.

Over the winter, the 26-year-old worked to improve his pitch recognition by taking a vision training course and buying a pitching machine. "I’m real excited to get things underway and see what that’s done for me," he said.

Even if his on-base percentage remains below average, he can add value with his power and his speed. His defensive ratings at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference suggest he’s an above-average fielder, and that lines up with the eye test for manager John Gibbons.

"He’s a good athlete," Gibbons said. "He can play all over that outfield. He’s going to make our outfield that much better. He’s got a lot of pop."

"I’ve always liked what I’ve seen," Gibbons added. "One thing you can bet on: guys that have played in the Cardinals organization, they do things right."

The speed that allows Grichuk to cover ground in the outfield could theoretically allow him to add value on the basepaths, too. He stole just six bases last year, but ranked in the top third of MLB runners using Statcast’s sprint speed metric.

"I like to think that I’m somewhat fast and hopefully that plays a big part in my game," he said.

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Last month, when he was first introduced by the Blue Jays, Grichuk said he’d like to steal more often in 2018. The Blue Jays are open to that possibility, though they haven’t been particularly active on the bases in recent years.

"We’re probably still not going to steal a ton of them, but if he can do it, that’d benefit us somewhat," Gibbons said. "We like seeing that. He’s a younger guy, too, so he injects a little youth into our team."

When the 2017 season ended, Grichuk suspected that his days with the Cardinals were numbered. They had a surplus of outfielders, and he had fallen on their depth chart. The addition of Marcell Ozuna heightened the need for a trade, and though it took a while, Grichuk ultimately ended up in Toronto.

He’s intrigued by Rogers Centre, a park that’s friendly to right-handed hitters with power, and he says he’ll embrace the challenge of playing against the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. First thing’s first, though. For now it’s Grapefruit League games and the chance to continue making an impression on a new team.

"I think it’s going to be a fun year."

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