Yasmani Grandal was nowhere close to throwing in the towel on his MLB career back in 2007. He had only been selected in the 27th round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox.
Some MLB scouts had questioned his hitting ability, despite him being one of the best defensive catchers available. He was projected by Baseball America to be taken within the first five rounds.
Having just wrapped up his high school career at Miami Springs High School (Miami Springs, Fla.), Grandal did not even sign with Boston. He was instead focused on coming to Coral Gables and putting in the work to boost his draft stock and get the major league deal he wanted.
“When Boston drafted him out of high school, I spent the whole summer praying,” Grandal’s mother said. “I wanted him to go to the University of Miami.”
It was barely eight years before his crucial decision that the Cuban-born catcher and his family had learned that they were eligible for the “Special Cuban Migration Program.” At just the age of nine, Grandal immigrated to Miami on July 3, 1999 to unite with his aunt and uncle.
“We arrived with nothing. We lived in two rooms,” Grandal’s stepfather Elieser Gomez said. ”Those first few months, Yasmani gained 20 pounds because he just wanted to sit in the apartment and watch TV. You couldn’t blame him. Here, the electricity doesn’t go out and the TV has lots of channels. In Cuba, we only had two.”
That was before the young Grandal received a pair of baseball cleats and some gear from a family friend, along with a chance to play for one of the local ballclubs. He soon went from initially being a third baseman on the Cuban junior national team to a catcher at Palm Springs Middle School (Hialeah, Fla.) as his love for the game grew in the early 2000s.
By the time the 2010 MLB Draft had rolled around, Grandal knew he was primed for an MLB career. He had heard his name called at No. 12 that night going to the Cincinnati Reds, and it was all thanks to the three years of endless hard work on the diamond with the Hurricanes.
His game had come leaps and bounds in his three seasons at Miami. He had been named to the NCAA Coral Gables Regional All-Tournament Team as a freshman in 2008 and eventually garnered preseason All-America honors in 2010.
Batting .234 his freshman season, Grandal’s batting average had only climbed thereafter, increasing to .299 the following year and all the way to .401 in 2010. He also held the highest on-base percentage (.528) and slugging percentage (.721) his junior year.
Former Miami hitting coach Joe Mercadante, now the hitting coach for Stetson University, stood firmly behind the former ACC Player of the Year’s vast potential to compete at the game’s highest level.
“If you break it down, here is a kid who can outwork everybody, and he’s taken it upon himself to be the best,” Mercadante said. “He understands the strike zone and he understands the difference between a pitch he can handle and a pitch he can hit. We spend a lot of time trying to refine his swing, so it’s consistent. When he has that great swing, he can repeat it as much as possible.”
That same work ethic has carried over to the MLB from day one, proving that he belongs after three years with the San Diego Padres and four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eight years after his major league debut, Grandal is currently the starting catcher for the Chicago White Sox having signed a four-year, $73 million contract this past offseason.
After a World Series appearance with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018, the two-time all-star looks to lead the franchise back to relevancy during this year’s shortened 60-game season. Chicago has not made a postseason appearance since 2008, holding the fourth longest drought in the league.
The former ‘Cane did not let the MLB hiatus prevent him from staying in baseball shape. Rather, the pandemic just served as more time to prepare for whenever the 2020 season would actually start.
“For me, it was kind of like going back to offseason training where, all right, if it starts today, we can continue on, and if it’s not (today), then I’ve got to make sure I’m ready for when it is,” Grandal said.
White Sox manager Rick Renteria has been grateful for what Grandal has brought to the table for the ballclub early on.
“He’s a polished major-leaguer all the way around,” Renteria said. “He’s an individual who can do well on both sides of the field. He’s going to bring his style to the park every day. He’s really into everything, focused.”
And the team’s third base coach Nick Capra could not agree more, citing the reputation Grandal has carved out for himself in the MLB.
“He brings a lot to the table for us,” Capra said. “It’s experience obviously. He’s been around a while. Just his knowledge of the game, he passes on a little bit to everybody in certain areas of what’s going on out there. He’s well-respected. People seem to be gravitating to him, which is all a good thing.”
The new guys are fitting in just fine. pic.twitter.com/b8UpMN2DiR— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) July 20, 2020
Grandal’s production in the batter’s box has translated well from his time with the Milwaukee Brewers last year, having hit a career-high 28 home runs while finishing second in the National League in walks at 109.
Defensively, he has been sound behind the plate as well. The White Sox pitching staff, including starting pitcher Lucas Giolito, recently remarked how well he connects with Grandal on the mound.
“Communication’s there. He’s really good behind the plate. I remember from (Saturday’s intrasquad game), I threw one curveball at the bottom of the zone that he kind of swallowed up, and we stole a strike on that,” Giolito said. “I really like how he calls the game. Obviously these last few outings, we’ve been really mixing it up. But we have a pretty clear idea of how we can attack the batters and use my strengths.”
Standing at just 1-4 in the National League’s central division on Wednesday morning, the White Sox still have a long way to go with a short timeframe if they want to have a shot at making the expanded 16-team postseason this fall.
“Sixty games is a very small window that we have to put everything together,” Grandal said. “So it’s going to be either really good or it’s going to be really bad, just because you don’t have the time to take them by the hand and go from there. In 162 games, you’re able to do that.”
The White Sox have a handful of talented veterans, including former all-stars in starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, catcher James McCann, and Giolito himself. They look to reach the American League Division Series for the first time since 2008, let alone a World Series that the team last won in 2005.
Perhaps Grandal’s experience in both the College World Series and the World Series can push Chicago towards October baseball.