Chris McCosky | The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — AJ Hinch called it the elephant in the room, but shoot, this particular elephant has been shadowing Grayson Greiner every spring.
“We’ve got Wilson Ramos (signed for one year at $2 million) and then a bunch of people competing for the same job,” Hinch told his catchers Wednesday. “The elephant in the room is what each guy has to do (to win the job) is a little bit different.”
This is the fourth straight spring Greiner has come to camp fighting for a spot on the active roster. He won the starting catcher job in 2019, before a back injury knocked that season, and his career trajectory, off course.
Now, at age 28, he’s battling prospect Jake Rogers and veterans Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase for the backup job.
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“Yeah, I’m always fighting for a spot,” Greiner said after the first pitchers-catchers workout Wednesday. “But all you can really control is your attitude, your work ethic and the chips will fall where they may. I just try to come here every day having a good attitude and being a great teammate.
“Obviously I’d love to go north with this team. It’s going to be an exciting group. But I don’t look at it like it’s do or die. I’m just trying to get better each and every day. Whatever happens, happens.”
As Hinch said, there’s a lot to like about Greiner — work ethic, high baseball IQ, solid defensively.
“What he has to do is show he can help us win,” Hinch said. “Between the ears, this guy is super advanced. He cares about his pitchers. He makes his big body (6-foot-6) work, given that he’s probably the tallest catcher in the league.
“But offensively, we want him to be a complete player.”
There it is. Greiner’s own personal elephant. He’s got to hit to stick. His .194/.182/.333 slash-line and 31% strikeout rate won’t keep him in the league.
“It’s no secret I’ve struggled the last couple of years offensively,” he said. “I kept working this offseason on my defense, but I’ve tried to make strides as an offensive player — control the strike zone better.”
For his career, Greiner has a 32% chase rate and a 31% swing-and-miss rate.
“The last couple of years I’ve been swinging at balls and taking strikes, and that’s not a good recipe for success,” Greiner said. “A lot of it is approach. Even when I was struggling, when I did hit the ball I was hitting it hard.
“I just wasn’t hitting it enough.”
To his point, three of his six hits were home runs last year. He had a 90.4-mph exit velocity on balls put in play with a 45% hard-hit rate. He’s already spent considerable cage time with new hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.
“I’ve shortened my swing and honed up my approach to control the strike zone,” he said. “That’s what Scott has talked to all of us about. As a team, we need to shore up the strike zone. It’s about having a plan.
“I’ve heard my whole life that baseball was 90% mental. I’m starting to realize that’s 100% true. If you have a plan and an approach when you go up there, then your chances of having success grow exponentially.”
With Greiner, it will never be about the lack or work or want-to. But as Hinch has said, it comes down to performance and contribution.
“He’s got to continue to show that he can be a complete player and continue to guide the pitching staff,” Hinch said. “He’s got to show that on the days that he’s catching, we’re going to win. That’s what’s important.”