With Dansby Swanson off to greener pastures, the Braves options at shortstop are limited. I’m not sure there is a trade target available for them, and the free agent market is down to Elvis Andrus and Jose Iglesias — two uninspiring candidates. As the 2023 campaign continues to approach, it’s beginning to feel more and more likely that Vaughn Grissom could take over the reins as the starting shortstop in Atlanta. For several reasons, that’s risky, but the Astros laid out a perfect blueprint last season when they turned to rookie Jeremy Peña in favor of Carlos Correa.
Peña blossomed into a superstar for the Astros, helping them avoid any kind of drop off from the loss of Correa. He was unbelievable defensively, and on offense, he turned in a league average campaign. However, by the time the playoffs arrived, he was no longer just a rookie. Peña was one of the best players on the team, earning World Series MVP honors in the Astros triumph over the Phillies.
That has many Braves fans believing Grissom could have a similar impact in 2023. Grissom wasn’t tested offensively in the minors, and overall, his numbers at the plate in the majors were first-rate, especially for the position. Grissom hit .291 with five homers over 41 games — good for a .793 OPS. If that continues moving forward, Braves fans will quickly heal from the painful loss of Dansby Swanson. But if it doesn’t, the situation may have an eerily similar feel to 2021, when the club turned to Cristian Pache as the team’s starting centerfielder.
Pache was Atlanta’s top-ranked prospect entering the 2021 campaign, and many were comparing him to the likes of Andruw Jones because of his defensive prowess and power. Unfortunately, those comparisons quickly dissipated after Pache’s first 22 games, in which he hit just .166 with a .459 OPS.
It didn’t take long for the Braves to figure out it wasn’t working. Pache was demoted back to AAA Gwinnett, and less than a year later, he was a member of the Oakland Athletics following the trade that landed the Braves Matt Olson.
Thankfully, Atlanta was able to catch a few breaks in 2021 — like everyone else in the division playing terribly — and Alex Anthopoulos saved the team with his trade deadline acquisitions, or their World Series run never would have been possible. But I imagine that is a situation the organization would like to avoid entirely in 2023.
As far as Grissom, he’s far more talented with the stick than Pache ever was, which he proved last season. However, his defense at shortstop is an unknown, even if Ron Washington seems confident about his progression this offseason.
Grissom also struggled mightily at the plate to end 2022. Over his last 27 games, he hit just .220 and was benched in favor of Orlando Arcia in the playoffs. Assuming Grissom is ready to be the everyday shortstop is a massive risk by the club — one that could prevent them from winning their sixth consecutive division title in a competitive NL east. He has the potential to be the next young star in Atlanta, just like Jeremy Peña was for the Astros. But there’s also the chance that Grissom isn’t quite ready, and the Braves are caught with their pants around their ankles, just like they were in 2021 with Cristian Pache.
Photo: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire
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