Jays' Groshans hopes to follow familiar path

Shortstop/third baseman getting set to fit mold of Bichette, Smith

Jordan Groshans produced a .799 OPS across two levels in his first Minor League season. (Buck Davidson/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | March 13, 2019 10:00 AM

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- He has already picked the brain of Kevin Smith on how the game will speed up on him the higher he climbs. Director of player development Gil Kim would like to put him in touch with Bo Bichette next, likely when MLB.com's No. 11 overall prospect gets reassigned from Major League camp.

It's Jordan Groshans' first Spring Training with the Blue Jays after he was taken 12th overall in last year's Draft, and as he begins his Minor League career, he's hoping to follow the path forged by a number of promising infielders ahead of him in the system.

"We're all on the same team," Groshans said. "We all have the same goal. That's to bring a championship to Toronto. It doesn't matter what round you went in -- first or 39th. We're all in the same process, going on the same journey."

What makes Groshans -- the No. 6 prospect in the No. 6 system in baseball, according to MiLB.com -- a fit with a group that's loaded with talent on the dirt from the likes of Bichette, Smith and, oh, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? The 6-foot-3 infielder was a standout hitter at Magnolia (Texas) High School (where he was teammates and close friends with fellow 2018 pick Adam Kloffenstein) and carried that bat to showcase circuits ahead of his senior year. MLB.com ranked him as the No. 31 prospect in the 2018 Draft on the strength of his above-average power, but the Jays came calling not halfway through the first round and eventually signed him to a $3.4 million bonus. 

His bat didn't go quiet in the pros, either. In a 37-game stint with the Jays' Gulf Coast League affiliate, Groshans ranked fourth in the complex circuit with a .331 average and seventh with a .500 slugging percentage. He hit four homers and 12 doubles, showing good strength coming off what would have been a full high-school season. The Jays were impressed enough to send him to the Rookie Advanced Appalachian League last August, and although Groshans hit a bit of a wall following his first professional promotion (.182/.229/.273 in an 11-game sample), Toronto's excitement continues to grow entering the spring.

"He has good awareness of the strike zone," Kim said. "He has lightning-quick hands. The ball jumps off his bat to all fields. For a young hitter, he stays in the middle of the field with pretty good power to right-center as well. Offensively, we were very encouraged by Jordan."

Groshans admits he's ready to take the lessons of 2018 and show everyone what he can do over the longer season starting next month.

"Just staying back," he said of his approach. "Being as relaxed as I can. I know last year I got away with a lot of stuff, because it's fastball-changeup only in the GCL. As you move up, it only gets more difficult with more pitches to choose from. Just staying relaxed in the box and not rushing. Staying patient and waiting on my pitch is going to be my focus."

The most perplexing part of Groshans' prospect profile is where to play him. He's got the plus arm to work quite well in the hole at shortstop -- his natural position from high school -- but at 6-foot-3 with average speed, he might be too big for the position, making third base a possible destination. The Jays gave him almost equal time at both spots during his debut season, when Groshans played 21 games and 179 2/3 innings at shortstop and 21 games and 172 innings at the hot corner.

While other organizations may not want to throw any additional changes at their first-rounders growing accustomed to the pro ranks, the Jays did so in part because of a logjam of shortstops in the GCL, and to keep his options open going forward. The player bought in as quickly as he could.

"It didn't bother me at all," Groshans said. "At the end of the day, wherever they want me is where I'm going to play. Being able to play short and third was good. For me, I'm trying to get as close to as perfect at each position as I can, so later on the road -- A ball, Double-A, wherever I'm at -- if they tell me, 'Hey, we need you to play third,' or 'Hey, we need you to play short,' I'll be ready no matter what."

If the story of a high Toronto pick playing in the infield with the expectation he'll move around sounds familiar, well, it should. Bichette was a 2016 second-rounder who many believed would eventually move over from shortstop to second base full-time after he split time at both spots during his GCL stint. Almost three years later, the 21-year-old is one of the game's most promising prospects because of the growth he's shown defensively, and he looks more poised to stick at short when he does get the call to Toronto, likely as early as this summer. Elsewhere, Smith (the Jays' No. 7 prospect) got looks at shortstop and third base last year, and No. 10 Cavan Biggio has gotten time in the outfield after breaking in as a second baseman as Toronto hopes to find a spot for his breakout bat.

If Groshans ever needed to be sold on embracing versatility, all he need do this spring is look around.

"It helps from a development perspective of reading the ball off the bat," Kim said, "of making your body move in different ways, adding variability and the need for making adjustments to part of your defensive development. Secondly, is the benefit it gives the player, obviously ... the chance to get in the lineup some day and to offer more to the manager. As we've discussed with all of these guys -- Kevin Vicuna, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel, Kevin Smith, Cavan Biggio -- we've always seen two benefits for them bouncing around different positions. We don't see Jordan any differently."

Since arriving in Dunedin on Feb. 16, Groshans has taken note of the feeling of "family" around the Minor League complex in his first Spring Training. The organization might look top-heavy in terms of its prospect pipeline with Guerrero, Bichette and Nate Pearson, but it doesn't feel that way on the diamond. Furthermore, he might be in competition with the likes of Bichette and Smith for playing time on the infield some day, but that's a best-case scenario for the future of the Blue Jays, a club in a bit of a rebuild at the moment. That's why one of his most memorable moments of the spring came when Smith, Kacy Clemens and Reggie Pruitt ran a Minor League-wide seminar, based around two-minute player-written skits, on the virtues of being a good teammate. They're all in this together right now, and Groshans is comfortable with his place in the "all."

"That's something we take pride in," he said. "It's not about three or four guys helping the organization get better. It's about every single person in the building helping the organization. At the end of the day, that's what we try and do -- focus on being a good teammate. Respecting the game, respecting each other. You could have the best young talent in the world, but if they're not good teammates, they're not going anywhere. That's what I'd rather be on -- a team that gets along."

The 19-year-old has a few more weeks to get along with his fellow infielders before the dispersal comes in the beginning of April, when he'll likely be headed to Class A Lansing. It's a step a few Toronto infielders before him have taken, and if Groshans can follow their footsteps, it'll be a promising road ahead.

"It provides inspiration and motivation for a lot of these guys," Kim said. "A lot of them have played alongside the guys in big league camp right now. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that just three years ago, Vlad Guerrero and Bo Bichette were debuting in pro baseball. It becomes easier to see themselves making those same adjustments and jumps that those players have made."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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