Grandal was born in Cuba and immigrated to Miami when he was 10. He started catching when he was 13, after the encouragement of his stepfather.
According to the Palm Beach Post, Grandal and his family—including his mother, stepfather and maternal grandparents—won a national lottery that allowed them to enter the U.S. as legal residents.
"It was a constant battle," Grandal's mother, Maria Gomez, told the Palm Beach Post. "At the end of the day, you went to bed thinking, 'How are we going to get by tomorrow?' That was life on a daily basis. Leaving was about giving Yasmani opportunities."
As a kid, Grandal was smaller than most of his teammates.
In 2007, Yasmani committed to the University of Miami after his senior year at Miami Springs High School in Miami Springs, Florida.
In June 2007, he passed up signing with the Red Sox after they chose him in the 27th round of the draft. (Yasmani said the Royals, Indians, and Diamondbacks called in the first and supplemental rounds but did not draft him when he declined their offers.)
- In 2011, Baseball America rated Yasmani as the 6th-best prospect in the Reds' organization. In 2012, they moved him a couple of notches, to #4.
- November 7, 2012-May 28, 2013: Grandal was suspended for 50 games without pay by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball after testing positive for testosterone, a violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Grandal's suspension became effective at the start of the 2013 season.
Grandal became an American citizen during his junior year of high school.
June 30, 2012: In Grandal's first Major League start, just hours after being recalled from Tucson, he became the first player in MLB history to homer from both sides of the plate for his first career hits in the same game.
He later became the seventh player to hit three home runs for his first three hits in the Majors since 1900.
In 2014, Yasmani was ready for the season opener only eight months removed from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. There was no reason to doubt whether Grandal would get himself in a position to be ready for the opener, as he attacked his rehabilitation with something more than a sense of urgency and fervent determination.
Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes said, "I don't think there was a day throughout the whole rehab process where Yazzy didn't think he wouldn't be ready."
This meant that Grandal had to commit himself entirely to the rehabilitation process, a program that spanned three states—California, Florida and Arizona—and even included a physical therapy session on the day of his wedding (Oct. 19, 2013) and an unusual workout routine on his honeymoon in Bora Bora. Fat chance you'll find too many rehab protocols calling for water sprints in the South Pacific Ocean.
"I asked my trainer before going on my honeymoon what I could do while there," Grandal said. "He said that since I'll be around the water, that was perfect. So each day, while my wife would be sitting on the beach outside a bungalow and reading a book, I would be running sprints in the water."
That memory makes Grandal smile. It's a smile filled with gratification and satisfaction from the fact he was able to put himself in position to play on Opening Day, where he actually stole the first base of his professional career, a critical moment in the Padres' victory over the Dodgers.
"I think the great thing about my rehab was there were three different parts to it," Grandal said. "The first part was here [San Diego], doing full range of motion and getting some of the strength back. Then, the second step was getting all the strength back. The third part was running and agility, going full-out. It never felt like a drill for me."
The experience has humbled him. "I feel I've come back from the very bottom to being ready for Opening Day. That's something I'm very proud of," Grandal said. "I'm also proud of everyone who worked with me and very thankful for them." (Brock - mlb.com - 4/3/2014)
With each passing day in Spring Training 2015, Grandal’s comfort level with the Los Angeles pitching staff grew. The backstop was adjusting to a new environment and with that came an entirely new group of pitchers, each with their own individual tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.
"The more I catch them, I get a little bit better with them," Grandal said. "For now, it's really just talking game plan and things they like to do in different situations, counts. I think that's, for now, the one thing we can do the most."
Grandal joined the Dodgers as part of the Matt Kemp trade with the Padres in the 2014 offseason. He was acquired as a complement to A.J. Ellis, who is known more for his prowess behind the plate than his bat.
As a switch-hitter, Grandal is a versatile addition to the Dodgers lineup. But for now, Grandal is content with where he is offensively at this point in the spring and is focused on building a rapport with his pitchers.
"Everything comes with time," he said. "You just don't pick up the bat and become a good hitter straight off the bat. It's just like catching a new guy." Grandal has worked closely with fellow Dodger catcher A. J. Ellis in spring training, leaning on his familiarity with the staff. (Thornburg – mlb.com – 3/9/15)
March 31, 2017: When Clayton Kershaw reported to Spring Training in February, it was his first Dodgers camp without close friend and battery-mate A.J. Ellis around. Grandal is now Kershaw's personal catcher, and management cemented that pairing by having Grandal catch every one of Kershaw's starts this spring, as he will do when Kershaw ties the Dodgers' record with his seventh consecutive Opening Day start.
Analytics can't quantify the chemistry and comfort level of a pitcher with a catcher. Grandal observed Kershaw and Ellis with admiration.
"Watching the connection they had was very special," said Grandal. "Not many guys get to have that. For me, it was great to watch it. It taught me a lot. The fact I get the chance now to be behind the plate every time he's throwing gives me the chance to watch greatness on the mound, and that's exciting."
Grandal doesn't have the pitch-calling premonition or the pitch-blocking anticipation that develops over a decade, but he set out this spring to improve both.
All you want at the very minimum from a catcher is to be all-in as far as trying to figure out how to best catch you," said Kershaw. "I think Yas has shown that this spring, for sure. I don't think Yas has needed to do a whole lot. This is our third year. I think it's great when he shows the willingness and interest to catch." (K Gurnick - MLB.com - March 31, 2017)
In 2016, Grandal broke out with a 27-homer season, making the Matt Kemp trade with the Padres a big win for Dodgers management. But Grandal, one of the better pitch-framers behind the plate, acknowledged there were upgrades possible in other areas of receiving, particularly blocking Kershaw's wipeout slider in the dirt.
"If he feels comfortable, that's great, and if he wants to do more, that's great, too," said Kershaw. "I don't like to be vocal about, 'Here's what I like to do, here's what I don't like to do,' because games don't always work out that way. To be comfortable, you just go through the scouting reports and go through the game batter by batter, and over time, you figure it out. We've talked a little this year about the slider, but everything else, I feel confident in where we're at."
While smothering those two-strike sliders in the dirt can be a challenge, catching Kershaw also gives Grandal unique enjoyment.
"At times, reading swings and looking at the faces of the hitters is pretty funny," Grandal said. "I remember one at-bat, first a fastball and then a curve, and from the hitter's face you can see that, 'All right, I've got you." They might ask the umpire, 'What was that?' It gives me an idea of what they're seeing and what they're not seeing." (K Gurnick - MLB.com - March 31, 2017)
During the 2017 season, Grandal's most urgent concern was the health of his family. "I had a lot of things happen in 2017," said Yasmani. "My wife had a high-risk pregnancy and we didn't know if it was going to happen or not." So Grandal would race home to Peoria, Ariz., to be with her whenever possible. Their son, Yasmani, is now a healthy 5-month-old.
"A lot of people say, 'God first. Family second.' I'm a true believer in that. But (in 2017) I had to put my family first and pretty much pray to God on a daily basis to keep them safe.
"I just kept going back to Arizona countless times," he said. "If there was a flight available, I would take a flight. If not, I'm driving five hours over there and five hours back the next day. I couldn't tell you how many times—every day off, even during homestands, I had to go back, especially when she reached 36 weeks. I was going back two, three times a week thinking he was coming some time. Every time my wife went into the hospital and was kept there, I made sure I was there."
So while his playing time diminished down the stretch and in the playoffs, Grandal had perspective. It stung to be on the bench, but Grandal was carrying a heavy load. "There was a lot of things going on the outside when I look back at last year," said Grandal. "I think I did pretty good just handling what was going on around me and coming in every day and pretty much giving 100 percent."
Grandal is good at stiff-arming distractions. He's content to keep his head down, do his work and contribute to a victory. When playing in San Diego, the jeers pointed his direction by Padres fans toward this ex-Padre fall on deaf ears.
"Something happens when playing the game," he said. "I've had my daughter screaming before from two rows up and I'm not able to hear her. You are so locked in on what you are trying to do and if you're listening to everything on the outside, you are not going to be able to perform as good as you should be performing.
"My main concern when I'm playing the game is pretty much winning that day. I could care less what is happening around me. Unless there is a fight at Dodger Stadium and everybody stops, that's different."
Grandal had to battle his emotions last year. In 2018, his head is clear and his bat is sizzling. "Whether I'm starting or not, it's about going back to the process, going back to the execution and knowing what you want to do," he said. "If you build a game plan and execute it, you should be fine."
Grandal is just that. And more importantly, so is his baby boy. (Paris - mlb.com - 4/17/18)
Jan 15, 2019: Brewers General Manager David Stearns told manager Craig Counsell that Milwaukee was close to signing free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal. Stearns had mentioned the idea early this offseason, Counsell said, but he downplayed the possibility until it became realistic. Counsell's one-word reply in a text message would later be repeated by many around the baseball world: "Wow." The Brewers formally introduced Grandal during a press conference at Miller Park, a day after officially signing him to a one-year contract that reportedly includes a mutual option for 2020.
"At the front end of the offseason, had you told me that we'd be sitting here right now, I probably would have been surprised," Stearns said. "But [owner] Mark Attanasio encouraged us to pursue every avenue possible to improve this team throughout the offseason. As this opportunity became a possibility, Mark and the ownership group authorized us to stretch our resources beyond our normal constraints. And equally important was the fact that Yasmani expressed a consistent desire to join our organization." What led Grandal to the Brewers? The former Dodgers catcher expressed his admiration for the club—particularly the "three-headed monster in the bullpen," as he put it. But he also pointed to some off-the-field factors that pushed him toward Milwaukee.
"It came down to what was best for my family," Grandal said. "My wife said she'd rather have Spring Training here [in Phoenix] and be with the kids a little bit more. I have a 14-month-old who's running crazy around the house, and if this gives me two extra months to watch him run around, that's one of the most important parts for me. [Free agency] was a little stressful being my first time through it, but the fact that I'm here is very exciting for me and my family. I can't wait to get going."
Grandal got a first-hand look at the Brewers last October, as his Dodgers narrowly won the seven-game National League Championship Series. "They've made the right moves. I like the way they play. I like the way that it seems like the clubhouse has a great feel to it," Grandal said. "I feel like they click, and it showed last season, especially late in the year where they were able to make a big run. The fact that they did that, it shows that they're built to win and they're built to win now. "In my opinion, this is one of the most complete teams in baseball."
The Brewers' open competitive window also prompted Attanasio to allow Stearns to splurge for an upgrade behind the plate. Signing Grandal to such a high annual salary is a break from the norm for the small-market Brewers, and because Grandal declined the Dodgers' qualifying offer, signing him cost Milwaukee its third-highest selection in the 2019 Draft. But just as they did with outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain last January, the Brewers seized the opportunity to add one of the best players at his position.
"Mark was very open from the beginning of the offseason that he wanted us to explore every opportunity possible to improve the team, whether or not it could exist within the constraints that we've previously operated under," Stearns said. "In this case, as we talked through it, Mark certainly understood the value that we could bring to the organization and was very supportive of us pursuing it."
While the Brewers stand to benefit from Grandal's presence in their lineup and behind the plate, the 30-year-old backstop—who reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million offer from the Mets—should be better off in Milwaukee's hitter-friendly environment. He hits for more power from the left side, and he's going to spend a lot less time in the NL West's mostly pitcher-friendly ballparks.
"I think about 85 percent of all Major League ballparks would have been good for me, as long as it wasn't Petco Park or Dodger Stadium," Grandal joked. "But I love hitting here. I love playing here. I also took that into account of why I wanted to come here. It's also going to be exciting to be away from those pitcher-friendly ballparks. For me, it's a challenge to be in a ballpark where, when I'm behind the plate, I need to take into account what I'm calling and how I want to go through certain situations."
With Grandal, the Brewers have significantly improved one of the few holes on their roster. The switch-hitting Grandal slashed .241/.349/.466 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs in 140 games last season, posting a 125 weighted runs created plus that ranked 50 points higher than the total produced by Milwaukee's catchers in 2018. Grandal is also highly regarded behind the plate as he rated as the game's best pitch-framing catcher, according to Baseball Prospectus.
"Lengthening your lineup is so important," Counsell said. "Adding a switch-hitter to that mix that's going to be a consistent presence in the lineup is something that's new for us, and it's something that's going to be very valuable. We've added a very good offensive player to the lineup. Defensively, he's proven how good he is—and the receiving numbers that's he's generated and how important that is, it's a very important part of the game. Yasmani's very good at it." (A Berry - MLB.com - Jan 15, 2019)
March 4, 2019: The tale of Grandal’s path to the Brewers is told in the art that adorns his body. “I like to be able to express in some sort of way your past experience, and show the world what your life has consisted of,” said Grandal, the former NL All-Star who inked a one-year deal with Milwaukee in January.
“I think that’s pretty cool, and it’s something that has always resonated with me. Some people use them as a scapegoat. Some people just like having them. In my case, I like to put my story on my body. Every time I got a tattoo, I would do well that year. Then the next year I would get one, and do well again. It just seemed like I had to. But I didn’t want to get a tattoo of whatever I saw; I had to figure out a way to come up with something that had meaning.”
In his own words, and with visual assistance from Brewers team photographer Scott Paulus, here are the stories behind Grandal’s favorite pieces of body art:
Left arm: Scorpio
This was my first tattoo, my astrological sign in Japanese letters. Then it went from one, to two, to three. But the first one I was 18 years old, beginning my first year of college at the University of Miami. I was at a girlfriend’s house and there was a tattoo shop right down the street. One day I said, "I’m going to do it." I knew I wanted something very small, just to see what it would be like.
Right triceps: The ‘U’
Everyone at Miami ends up getting the "U" with their number on it. I kind of wanted something different, so in my sophomore year I went ahead and got a cross with a baseball and the "U" right in the middle. I go to chapel on Sundays, and I wanted something that had some kind of meaning to me. Baseball, religion and the university I went to.
Upper back: YAZ
One of the coaches I had coming up through Little League had no idea how to say my name. That was common. I’ve had teachers who just crushed my name, and they called me “Ya-Swanny” and “Manny,” all sorts of things. But this coach was a huge Red Sox fan, and obviously Carl Yastrzemski is a big name over there. He figured if he couldn’t get my name right, he might as well call me “Yaz.” So ever since I was 12 years old, I’ve been called Yaz. I had no idea why. I didn’t find out about Carl Yastrzemski until I was 16 or 17. People called me Yaz from when I was 12, through high school to college to the Minor Leagues to here. So I figured, I might as well just own it on my body.
I got it in my second year in college. My mom always had this saying that a lot of people have "envy eyes" and you always have to give them the front. But when I’m playing, I’m catching, and my back is to everybody. So I put that nickname with eyes on it. If you’re looking at me, I’m looking right back at you.
A funny thing happened when I was on a rehab start for San Diego in Lake Elsinore, Calif. One of the PR people from the team, the Storm, saw me, and were like, “Do you know you have the same lettering and eyes as our logo?” I had no idea. I remembered talking to the artist about how eyes are very difficult to tattoo and be realistic. He wanted to incorporate something cartoonish that could also relate to baseball. Somewhere, I’m sure he came across that team’s logo and liked the font and the way it was placed. It was a total coincidence that I wound up playing a game there.
Right upper arm: Chained scorpion
It’s a big old scorpion with chains on it. Some chains are broken, some are still attached. I got it after my first year in the Minor Leagues. For me, it meant goals that I have accomplished in my career and goals that are still set that I haven’t quite got yet. When you think about a baseball career, you can be the best player in the world and still have goals. It reminds you that you’re not done yet. I went to college so I could be a first-rounder and be known as the best catcher in college. But to that point, I hadn’t accomplished all of my goals. Now it was a new world coming in professional baseball. People are going to be gunning for you, so you need to find a way to set goals for yourself and get to them.
There is another tattoo with one of the last sentences from a poem from Nelson Mandela: “I am the captain of my soul.” For me, that resonated at the time. It was my junior year in college. It meant that in order for me to reach the goal I had for that year, it was up to me to do it, and that there was a reason I had gone to college. I made sure I woke up every day at 4:30 a.m. and saw it. It reminded me even when I was tired that, “Hey, you need to go work and you need to keep working.” Whether it was at the gym or running or throwing or hitting or defense, it was always there. It was motivational.
Left wrist: Cuba
It’s an outline of the island. This one has a crazy story. I hadn’t seen my older brother in about 17 years, and he came to see me in San Diego in 2014. First thing I noticed for some reason was that he also had a tattoo of Cuba on the same arm, but his had the colors of the flag in it, which I hadn’t seen. Then I come to find out that my younger brother also had the same tattoo on the same side. None of us had any idea. I had no idea they had those tattoos, and they had no idea that I did. I thought that was pretty cool.
Left forearm: Tazmanian Devil
My first year in the big leagues, I had a pretty good run for a second there, and we were playing here in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. It was the first time my wife was able to see me in the big leagues. She made this huge sign that said, “Yazmanian Devil tearing it up.” That night, I hit a homer. It kind of stuck for a little bit because she came on the TV and fans saw it. The next year, I was like, why not? Let’s own it. I got the Tazmanian Devil tattoo with catcher's gear on it. I thought it was pretty cool, the fact she was able to come up with a nickname that stuck.
After that, the Yazmanian Devil kind of came alive. I started throwing the horns up after a homer. Even last year, you’d see guys in the dugout, as soon as I would hit a homer they threw the horns up. I think it’s pretty cool that it has stayed throughout my career.
"One thing I don’t have is a tattoo to honor my mother, even though she is very important to me," Grandal said. "To be quite honest, she didn’t want me to get any tattoos. She told me, 'When you don’t live under the same roof as I am, you can do whatever you want.' So a lot of tattoos through college, I would do them and not say anything. Since I was leaving the house at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and not coming back until 10:00 at night, she wouldn’t really see them. When she found out, she would say, “What did you do?!” I just said, “It’s already on there, there’s nothing I can do.” After a while, it kind of became a game for me. I would show up at the house and say, 'Hey, I got a surprise for you.'
"Someday, I want a tattoo for her," he said. "I was born in Cuba and my parents split when I was 8 months old, so from that time until I was about 8 years old I grew up with my grandparents and my mom. She was the one who got me into baseball. She was just trying to figure out a way to get me off the streets, and we tried all of these sports that I wasn’t quite interested in. But I was still too young to play baseball.
"The baseball coach was a good friend of hers, so she went up to him and said, 'I just want him to be here, even if he doesn’t play. He can’t be roaming in the streets when he’s 5.' The coach agreed. I joke now that I’ve played every position in baseball because my very first position the first time I was on a baseball field was batboy. I would get bored, so I tried to find a way to do something."Then one day we took batting practice, and here’s a 5-year-old hitting balls as hard as the kids who were 10. The coach said, “He might have a future. Let’s keep him around.” Once I turned 6, I started playing. When I was 9, I was on the Cuban junior national team. When I was 10, we came to America. Without a doubt, I want to do something to honor my mom. I think my next tattoo will be a sleeve on my left arm. I already have it in mind, and it will be family-oriented. My mom means a lot to me." (A McCalvy - MLB.com - March 4, 2019)
April 12, 2019: The Dodger Stadium faithful cheered Grandal upon his return. The ovation came a few hours after L.A. executives presented him with his National League championship ring in a modest but meaningful ceremony in a tunnel outside the visitor’s clubhouse, and a few minutes after the Dodgers played a video with highlights from a four-year tenure capped by back-to-back berths in the World Series. It was all a little surprising, said Grandal, who had seen other former Dodgers return to less fanfare.
Then he did exactly what he is supposed to do in the Brewers’ 8-5 win over his former team, and he gave those fans a reason to boo.
Grandal tallied three hits and three RBIs, including a two-run home run that gave the Brewers the lead for good in the fifth inning. Then he ushered five relievers, including Josh Hader, through some harrowing final frames for a victory that snapped the Brewers’ three-game skid.
“It was probably one of the best moments of my career,” Grandal said of the fans’ salute. “I’m very thankful for that. Somewhat surprised. I’ve seen guys who played here for a long time and did great things here, and they didn’t really get that. It was surprising and emotional at the same time. I had to breathe a little bit and step into the batter’s box.” (A McCalvy - MLB.com - April 13, 2019)
July 2019: Grandal represented the Brewers at the All-Star Game.
June 2010: The Reds chose Grandal with their #1 pick, the 12th player picked overall, out of the University of Miami. He signed on the August 16 deadline for a bonus of $2 million. Tony Arias is the scout who signed Yasmani.
The Reds were pleasantly surprised he was still available. The Royals had agreed to a pre-draft deal with him and were going to choose him with the fourth overall pick in the first round. The day he was drafted, Yasmani was hitting .412 in 59 games with 14 home runs, 56 RBIs, and a .537 on-base percentage.
December 17, 2011: The Padres sent RHP Mat Latos to the Reds; acquiring Grandal, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Brad Boxberger, and INF Yonder Alonso. (Editor's note: What a steal for the Padres.)
December 11, 2014: The Dodgers sent Matt Kemp, C Tim Federowicz, and $31 million to San Diego (to cover part of Kemp's remaining $107 million salary); the Padres sent Grandal and pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Elfin to the Dodgers.
January 15, 2016: The Dodgers and Grandal avoided arbitration, agreeing on a one-year deal for $2.8 million.
Jan 13, 2017: Grandal and the Dodgers avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal for $5.5 million.
Jan 12, 2018: Grandal and the Dodgers avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal for $7.9 million.
Oct 29, 2018: Grandal chose free agency.
- Jan 9, 2019: A patient approach to the offseason paid off for the Brewers when they landed free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal on a one-year deal at $18 million.