White Sox

Behind Grandal’s extensive game prep, role in playoff chase

White Sox
USA Today

DETROIT – Yasmani Grandal’s highlight reel from the White Sox’ final road trip of the regular season already includes home runs in back-to-back games at Texas, coming off a 30-game on-base streak.

The full extent of Grandal’s value to the White Sox, however, is subtler. It begins with the video he consumes behind the scenes, rather than the clips circulating on Twitter.

“He’s one of the most (routine-oriented) guys with the preparation that I’ve seen,” catching coach Jerry Narron said before the White Sox’ series-opening loss to the Tigers on Monday.

That quality has shaped Grandal into a catcher that White Sox pitchers were raving about even before he first suited up for the team in 2020. Grandal will enter the postseason this year with more playoff games (36) under his belt than any other member of the White Sox roster. And he’s in a unique position to help guide both the offense and pitching staff.

“He does a lot of work in every phase of his game,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “That includes all the mechanical receiving things. He's very conscientious about studying the hitters, and he's going to be trying to get outs and figuring out ways to communicate with his pitcher.

 

“I don't know if you can do it more than he does.

When Grandal first came up to the big leagues, debuting with the Padres in 2012, his prep work wasn’t nearly as thorough as it is now.

“I didn’t have anybody who kind of took me under the wing and told me, ‘This is the way it’s done,’” he said. “So, I just did the same thing I did in the minor leagues: come in on a daily basis, hit and then go through the scouting report and have the pitching coach tell me what to do.

A few years into his career, Grandal decided he needed to make a change. He could sense moments when his game-calling fell short, instances where he felt like he was missing things.

“That’s when it started, where I started asking for help,” Grandal said. “I would go work out at 9 o’clock and then go up to the front office and sit down with our advance (scout) and have him take me through the whole lineup watching swings and misses, watching pitches, going through scouting reports.

Fast forward to last summer, when baseball was still in limbo between its March shutdown and July resumption. Dane Dunning, then a White Sox prospect and now a Rangers starter, would work out at the team facility. Guess who was also there.

Dunning was struggling with his changeup in bullpen sessions, and he showed the pitch to Grandal.

“The beauty of watching a lot of video,” Grandal said, “is understanding natural body movement, mechanics and also grips.”

So, Grandal found video of a pitcher whose mechanics – arm slot, body movement, etc. – were comparable to Dunning’s and came back the next day with a suggestion: Try shifting your grip.

“It immediately clicked,” Dunning recalled.

Now, take Grandal’s understanding of pitch mechanics and layer on the defensive skill Grandal is known best for: framing. He has ranked among at least the top 5 in that category every year since Statcast began tracking it in 2015.

Grandal’s pitch receiving, which he honed in college at Miami, has become so second-nature that he says his framing numbers are better when he just lets his muscle memory take over.

 

“My good off-seed pitches end up at the bottom of the zone,” White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease said. “So, he’s able to steal strikes and save strikes that way.”  

That’s all to say, Grandal’s highlight reel from this road trip should also include strike calls on the edge of the zone and pitching sequences that picked apart hitters’ weaknesses.

And for good measure, add rookie Romy Gonzalez’s three hits on Friday.

“I have to give a shoutout to Yaz,” Gonzalez said after his first multi-hit MLB game. “He got with me in the video room and we were comparing when I had success in Double-A and Triple-A, and we were comparing the two videos and made a couple of adjustments.

For Grandal, the session was par for the course.

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