John Tomase

Don't sleep on Vaughn Grissom, an overlooked piece of Red Sox' future

The 23-year-old has high upside as Boston's potential Opening Day starter at second base.

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As we try to discern the next great Red Sox team, we tend to highlight either the guys already here, like Rafael Devers, Triston Casas, and Brayan Bello, or the prospects that are coming, like Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel.

And we skip right over Vaughn Grissom.

In the midst of a lackluster offseason, it's easy to forget the Red Sox did make one intriguing move for a potential piece of the future. Trading left-hander Chris Sale to the Braves was not without risk, but chief baseball officer Craig Breslow believed Grissom merited it.

Now the young infielder will be given every chance to prove it, coming to spring training as the favorite to open the season at second base, where his minor league numbers suggest his bat will absolutely play, as long as his glove allows it.

All Grissom knows is that after surpassing some more heralded prospects in Atlanta's vaunted system to homer in his debut at Fenway Park in 2022, only to lose the starting shortstop job last year, he may never get a better opportunity than the one awaiting him here.

"The Braves gave me the best shot I could ask for," Grissom said recently. "I don't want to say I messed up the opportunity, but things didn't go how I wanted them to, I guess. When one door closes, the next one opens. So I'm glad to be where I'm at right now."

He's taking nothing for granted, even though five of the seven players who claimed most of the reps at second last year are no longer in the organization, and the two who remain – Pablo Reyes and Enmanuel Valdez – aren't considered full-timers.

Grissom has a chance to make the job his own, especially if he contributes even average defense. There's little doubt he can hit, as evidenced by his .320 lifetime average in the minors since being selected in the 11th round of the 2019 draft, or even his .287 mark in parts of two big-league seasons.

He believes he learned something last season, when the Braves let homegrown All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson depart in free agency and then turned the search for his replacement into an internal competition. Many considered Grissom the favorite, but veteran Orlando Arcia beat him out in spring training, and outside of a couple of stints spelling injured second baseman Ozzie Albies, Grissom spent most of the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he hit .330 in 103 games.

He will bring a different mindset into his pursuit of the second base job this spring.

"I don't know why in Atlanta, I just felt tons of pressure," Grissom said. "I was kind of thinking about everything I was doing. I feel like I've got a good opportunity here to just go and play. Second base is obviously way closer to first, so I have a lot more time to throw. When I first played second base with the Braves, I was young. Now that I have some experience and I have some knowledge of the game, I think it's going to be a lot simpler, a lot easier."

Grissom just turned 23 and should be the youngest player on the Opening Day roster, unless one of the prospects in Florida surprises us. But he's not acting like anything is being handed to him.

Red Sox second baseman Vaughn Grissom
WooSox Photo/Ashley Green / USA TODAY NETWORK
Vaughn Grissom, 23, projects to be the youngest player on the Red Sox' Opening Day roster.

"I still believe with my whole heart that I'm fighting for a job," he said. "You have to stay that way, brother. (Nick) Yorke, Marcelo, all these guys are coming, you know what I'm saying? You've got to act like there's someone in front of you. There has to be something to chase. You can't settle just because they traded Chris Sale or whatever, like, 'He's a cool name and he's done great things, so I'm just going to get an opportunity.' That doesn't make sense to me.

"When people say, 'That's it, you're the guy,' no. I've still got to go to spring training. If I strike out every at-bat, I'm not the guy. If I let five balls go through my legs, I'm not the guy. It can happen like that. So I'm not trying to settle for nothing."

There's always the chance that Sale finally stays healthy and gives the Braves the 30 starts the Red Sox awaited in vain in 2022 and '23. The Red Sox can live with that if Grissom blossoms into the player they believe he can be – which is every bit as big a part of the future as the young guys he's joining and the even younger ones on the way.

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