Players at all levels of the Minor Leagues missed significant playing time in 2019 due to injury only to have their return interrupted by the global pandemic. Each week, MiLB.com checks in on an elite prospect’s road back from injury. This week, we focus on Toronto Blue Jays infielder Jordan Groshans.
Jordan Groshans’ stint in the Midwest League was underscored by a simple mantra: “Do not miss.”
The phrase became so important that it followed the second-ranked Blue Jays prospect into each of his at-bats with Class A Lansing last year.
Sure, he had to borrow a label maker from the team nutritionist and literally plaster “Do not miss” across the handle of each of his bats for it to stick. But for 23 games, Groshans rarely did miss.
He quickly established himself as one of the best hitters on the circuit, but it didn’t last long.
Groshans played his final game for the Lugnuts in May before being shut down with an undisclosed left foot injury. He described the ailment as “a flare-up of a tendon” in his ankle and explained that the organization made the call in August to play it safe and hold him out until this spring.
The No. 75 overall prospect felt he was ready to go at the end of last season or, at the very least, participate in an instructional or fall league. But the Blue Jays decided to keep him in a holding pattern, where, unbeknownst to anyone, the rest of the baseball world would soon join him.
“It was frustrating as hell if I'm being honest with you,” Groshans said, lamenting the idea that he wouldn’t return to an environment in Lansing with which he’d become comfortable. “At the end of the day, I was willing to sacrifice last season to be able to have a healthy career.”
The Blue Jays selected the 6-foot-3 high schooler with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2018 Draft. He played 48 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues that summer and was eager to prove himself in his full-season debut last year.
Being sidelined for that significant period makes it nearly impossible for a Minor Leaguer to show his mettle. So Groshans, who was relegated to rehab workouts at the team’s facility in Dunedin, Florida after six weeks in a walking boot, had to find other ways to make an impression.
“Having the higher up guys, whenever they're walking through the complex, doing their meetings, they check in the weight room, I want to be that guy that, when they're looking, I'm working out,” the Magnolia, Texas native said. “No matter what they're doing, I'm in there, I'm doing what I need to do, what they want me to do. And they know that.”
Groshans didn’t play in any Grapefruit League games, but said he fared well against live pitching this spring.
“I was ready to tear it up,” he said. “There's nothing really you can do. It was unfortunate. It was an unlucky situation. … I'm glad I'm healthy now, I'm ready to go.”
His early Midwest League success certainly added to the frustration of the injury. Groshans was placed on the injured list twice, first on May 1 before returning to go 3-for-10 over three games before his season finale on May 13.
The club sent him to Florida and put him in a boot before sending him home to Texas. He was instructed to stay off the foot but his time on the couch didn’t last long. When he felt up to it, he’d go out and do tennis ball drills from his knees or do some tee drills while sitting down in a chair. He focused on his upper body with simple exercises like bicep curls.
“I wasn't going to just completely do nothing for six weeks and get behind,” he said. “Just doing what I could do without stretching it too far, stretching the limits. It felt good to be able to do something and feel like an athlete.”
Groshans ramped up his rehab -- increasing his running, throwing and hitting -- when the boot came off and he received the all-clear. He eventually reached to the point where he felt ready to come back in August, but sights were turned to 2020. Though he feels healthy, the injury has left a mark on his typical routine.
“Now that I know I had an injury there, I'm not going to never do anything again and just move on from it,” he said. “Mobility, stretches, strengthening exercises, just to maintain and make sure that that muscle and that area stay strong so that there's no further injury further along down the road. It's not completely gone, I would say.
“The injury itself is gone, yes, but me, I still work that area of my body every day, just to make sure that there's nothing that happens later on.”
The work now shifts back to Texas. He was staying with his best friend, high-school teammate and No. 9 Blue Jays prospect Adam Kloffenstein in Dunedin this spring. When the sport was officially shut down, the duo road-tripped home to Magnolia, where their paths continue to cross in what’s amounted to an extended offseason.
Kloffenstein, a 6-foot-5, 243-pound right-hander, was selected in the third round the day after Groshans was drafted. Groshans said he made the 10-minute trip and crashed at Kloffenstein’s house the night of Draft Day 1. Though they’ve relied on each other and occasionally still work out together, Kloffenstein does more work at a private facility while Groshans makes more use of his home batting cage and weight room.
“Everything I need to stay in baseball shape, everything you can ask for, I got,” Groshans said, displaying an attitude almost perfect for a quarantine. “I was going 30 minutes somewhere, 30 minutes back, paying hundreds of dollars a month to work out. … [But] I like working out by myself. I'm the type of guy that I drive myself, I push myself, by myself. When it comes to lifting and stuff like that.”
A natural shortstop, Groshans’ offseason work also includes getting comfortable at third base, a position he played sparingly at the amateur level.
During his personal hiatus, the organization gave the now-20-year-old a sense of confidence and made him feel like they understood what he was capable of on the field. He didn’t have long to do it, but Groshans earned that trust by tearing the cover off the ball in the Midwest League.
The approach at the plate was simple but wily. Groshans was out of his element in the Midwest, with temperatures dropping to the high-20’s and low-30’s in April. But he knew he wasn’t alone.
“In my mind all the hitters up there, they were nervous to hit [because of the cold] but, they didn't realize the pitchers are the same way,” he explained. “No one wants to go there and pitch in 30-degree weather and do that every day.”
By the time he was shut down in May, his .337 average was third best in the league among players with at least 80 at-bats. He boasted a .909 OPS with a pair of homers, six doubles and 13 RBIs. Unfortunately, Groshans went against his mantra more than he would have liked, striking out 21 times in 83 at-bats (25.3 percent).
His cold-weather strategy included hunting the first fastball he was offered and driving it.
“I'm sitting there and I'm looking at the pitcher in the on-deck circle, and I'm like, 'Hey, I know I don't want to be out here, but I know this dude doesn't want to be out here either,'” he said. “In my mind, I'm like, ‘He's going to come at me first pitch, he's going to try and get ahead in the count so he could get it over with, try and get me to roll over.”
It was this thinking that led him to his “Do not miss” mantra and then the nutritionist’s label maker.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Gerard_Gilberto.