Is Grossman a Candidate in Cleveland’s Outfield Competition?

Just two springs ago, it was reported that the Houston Astros had talked to outfielder Robbie Grossman about the prospects of a small contract extension. At the time, the 24-year-old was coming off of a .268/.332/.370 debut with 14 doubles, four homers, and 21 RBI in 63 games.

Now 26, he is fighting to extend his Major League career in the camp of the Cleveland Indians, hoping to land a spot on the roster as a bench option in the outfield.

The Astros can look back happily that they did not extend their young outfielder the rumored six-year, $13.5 million contract with a pair of club options. He hit .233 with a .337 OBP in 2014, adding 14 doubles, two triples, six homers, and 37 RBI in 103 games for the 2014 club. He covered all three outfield spots for the team as they improved 19 games in the win column from his first trip to the show.

But after midseason additions in 2014 and the ensuing offseason pieces that Houston brought in, including several new outfield options, Grossman saw his time for play decrease and with a poor start in the first month and a half of the 2015 season (.143/.222/.245 in 24 games), he was optioned to Triple-A Fresno and spent the season farmed out.

He appeared in 93 games in his third Triple-A stint of his career, hitting .254 with 16 doubles, one triple, five homers, and 37 RBI. He was not recalled late in the season as the Astros, having already added Jake Marisnick in the middle of 2014, Colby Rasmus in the offseason, and Carlos Gomez during the 2015 season, had little playing time available for their former contributor Grossman.

Finding and keeping a spot in the Majors has been difficult for the former sixth round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2008 draft. The club selected him from his Cypress, Texas, high school and gave him a $1 million signing bonus, as the switch-hitter had a commitment to attend the University of Texas that fall. During his second season of High-A ball with Bradenton of the Florida State League, he showed promise when he hit .294 with a .418 OBP, adding 104 walks and 127 runs scored while becoming the first player to record 100 or more walks and runs in the same season since Nick Swisher had done so seven years prior.

The Pirates traded him to the Astros a week before the July trade deadline in 2012 with two other prospects for starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. His career in Houston came to a formal end on November 19, when the club released him a day prior to the deadline for protecting players from the Rule 5 draft. Less than a month later, he was added by Cleveland on a minor league deal with a non-roster invite to camp.

During his Major League career, Grossman has seen more than two and a half times as many opportunities against right-handed pitching than left, which may have been problematic for him as his left-handed hitting in the minors was thought to be a point of weakness. He has struck out in 27% of plate appearances against MLB right-handers, compared to 19.8% when facing left-handers.

In a small 37-game sample size, he has been a notoriously slow starter in his three years in the Majors, hitting just .134 in the first month of the season. He has had much better results in the second half of the year.

The bulk of his defensive work has come in left field, where he has appeared in 129 games and started 115. He owns a .980 fielding percentage there and has shown below league average range. He has worked in 38 games in right and 35 in center, with .985 and .984 fielding percentages at each spot, respectively.

Grossman would appear to have an outside shot at best of cracking through the crowded competition in Goodyear this spring. The Indians are in need of a regular in center field and possibly a short-term replacement for Michael Brantley in left to start the season. The team would also need an extra outfielder or two for the bench.

Through Friday’s 6-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies, Grossman is hitting .222 in spring training with a double, triple, two walks, and six strikeouts in 18 at bats over nine games.

Photo: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

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