Prospect Retrospective: Ben Grieve
What happened to this guy?
Ben Grieve was drafted in the first round in 1994, second overall, out of high school in Arlington, Texas. He was considered the most advanced high school hitter available in the draft that year, and he lived up to that immediately, hitting .329/.446/.464 in 72 games in the Northwest League after signing. Although scouts had doubts about his defense, there was no question that he was a premium hitter. He would have rated a retrospective Grade A- heading into 1995.
Grieve's '95 campaign was actually a bit disappointing. Splitting the season between West Michigan in the Midwest League and Modesto in the California League, he hit .261 and drew 74 walks in 478 at-bats. However, he hit only 6 home runs, much less power production than expected. I gave him a Grade B- in the 1996 Minor League Scouting Notebook, with the note that he could have been just a Grade C prospect without his pedigree as a first-rounder.
Grieve got his power stroke back in '96, hitting .356 with 11 homers in 72 games for Modesto, leading to a promotion to Double-A, where he hit 8 homers in 63 games for Huntsville, albeit with just a .237 batting average. He maintained good plate discipline at both levels. Although his overall Double-A numbers were disappointing, he was just 20 years old. I bumped his grade back up to Grade A-, and had him marked as the Number 18 prospect in baseball.
Everything came together in 1997. Grieve hit .328 with 24 homers in 100 games for Huntsville, then an incredible .426 with a .741 SLG in 27 games for Triple-A Edmonton. A late-season audition with Oakland went well: .312/.402/.473 in 24 games. He got a Grade A for me in 1998, rated as the second-best prospect in the game, behind Adrian Beltre.
Grieve won Rookie of the Year in '98 and had three good seasons in Oakland, but Billy Beane traded him to Tampa Bay in '01. Did Beane know something we didn't? Grieve never got untracked in Tampa Bay, and his career is now at a crossroads: it's been a stunning decline, from certain power-hitting star to trying to rebuild his swing in Triple-A for the Cubs. Grieve is still only 28 and has a chance to come back, but this could be a classic case of a player with "old skills" (power, plate discipline, but slow afoot and mediocre defensively) aging badly.
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