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Right-fielder Grichuk ready for fresh start this season with Blue Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. — There were already high expectations for Randal Grichuk when the Los Angeles Angels selected him 24th overall in the 2009 baseball draft. Then came their next pick — Mike Trout at No. 25.
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DUNEDIN, Fla. — There were already high expectations for Randal Grichuk when the Los Angeles Angels selected him 24th overall in the 2009 baseball draft.

Then came their next pick — Mike Trout at No. 25.

Grichuk's link to Trout, a generational talent who reached the big leagues as a 19-year-old in 2011, persisted through Grichuk's early years in the minors. But the new Blue Jays right-fielder didn't pay much attention to the chatter.

"When I was first getting started it was always a question I'd get asked about, but honestly for me, I never really gave it too much thought," Grichuk said in a recent interview at spring training. "There were 24 guys drafted before him and I just happened to be the one drafted at No. 24.

"But it's definitely one of those cool things that hopefully will be a trivia question on 'Jeopardy' or something."

The Blue Jays, in the market for a starting right-fielder to replace Jose Bautista, acquired Grichuk this off-season in a trade with the Cardinals that sent reliever Dominic Leone and pitching prospect Conner Greene to St. Louis.

The 26-year-old Texan, who was expected to be the odd man out in a crowded Cardinals outfield, tweeted three Canadian flag emojis when news of the trade broke in January. Having spent three days in Toronto nearly four years ago when St. Louis last visited Rogers Centre — he hit his first major league homer there against Mark Buehrle in 2014 —Grichuk was delighted by the prospect of a fresh start in a new city.

He will kick off his first season with the club Thursday as the Jays open the 2018 campaign at home against the Yankees.   

"Anytime you can go somewhere else and have a better opportunity than where you were at, I feel like for a young player that's what they want to do," Grichuk said. "And luckily it was coming here where camp was run great, the guys are great and the staff is awesome. So it couldn't be a better fit.

"I played in Toronto in 2014 and the city looked really nice and I've always wanted to play indoors. This team is a fun team to watch on TV, so I was excited to be able to come over here and get a fresh opportunity."

Grichuk was limited this spring due to rib cage soreness that kept him sidelined for two weeks. Once he was cleared to swing again, he spent most of his time in the batting cages behind Dunedin Stadium before returning to the field for the last week of the pre-season.

In his downtime, Grichuk became friends with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, chatting regularly with the veteran in the clubhouse and on the field during team stretches.

"It's been good, being able to talk to him and bounce things off of him," Grichuk said. "He's been in the game a long time and has had a lot of success. He's been through everything that I've been through and that I'll be going through, so to have guys like that to talk to is huge and it just helps the learning curve for us."

Grichuk batted .238 with 22 homers, 25 doubles and 59 RBIs through 122 games with the Cardinals last season. He's hoping the move to a hitter-friendly ballpark and hitter-friendly division could help improve those stats this year.

And while the injury cost him some preparation time, Grichuk doesn't think it will be a problem once the regular season begins.

"I would have liked to have had more at-bats and done more on the field but luckily I felt good before the injury so I was just picking up where I left off and trying to get as many at-bats as I can before we go (to Toronto for the season opener)," he said. "The body has felt good, other than that.

"It was a little wrinkle in spring but I'm ready."

Manager John Gibbons was encouraged by what he saw from Grichuk in the final week of the exhibition schedule.

"He looks good," Gibbons said. "We didn't know what to expect with that long layoff but ... the key is he feels good. I think he'll be ready to go."

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press