By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
A.J Griffin, Starting Pitcher, Oakland Athletics
2012 season: 15 GS, 82.1 IP, 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 64 K, 19 BB
The Oakland A’s are full of young, high-potential starting pitching. Brett Anderson might seem like he’s been around for a while, but he’s only 25; Jarrod Parker was the centerpiece of the Trevor Cahill deal and showed why last year; Tommy Milone was an important player in the Gio Gonzalez trade; and Dan Straily led the minors in strikeouts last year.
Then there’s A.J. Griffin. The 25-year-old right-hander pitched at three different levels last year and enjoyed success at each stop. He posted a 2.49 ERA in 43.1 innings at Double-A, a 3.07 ERA in 58.2 innings at Triple-A and a 3.06 ERA in 82.1 innings in the Majors. That’s the type of year that young pitchers dream of – especially ones who were drafted in the later rounds, as Griffin was (13th round in 2010).
Griffin doesn’t blow hitters away, as he averaged only 89.8 mph on his fastball last year, but he’s very good at changing speeds and keeping hitters off-balance. He throws a slider around 84 mph, a changeup around 80 and a big, looping curveball around 69. He’s also got good control that allows him to throw those pitches in any count, making it hard for hitters to sit on any one pitch.
Griffin is never going to be an elite strikeout pitcher, but he doesn’t have to be. He fans a good number of batters already (7.00 per nine innings last year) and walks so few (2.08 per nine) that he maintains a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio. It’s also good to induce contact in Oakland’s spacious Coliseum, which has the most foul ground in the big leagues. Still, Griffin actually put together a better ERA on the road (2.90) than he did at home last year (3.21).
This year, the best-case scenario for Griffin would probably be to repeat what he did last season. That won’t be easy; the league might catch up with him a bit after getting a look at him last year. But with his repertoire, control and favorable home park, it’s more than possible that Griffin compiles numbers similar to last season’s. Currently slated as the Oakland’s No. 4 starter, that type of performance would be a big boon to an A’s team that is competing with loaded Angels and Rangers squads. If the A’s are going to make the playoffs again, it will be on the strength of their pitching. Griffin will be a big part of that.
Next up on March 14: Seattle Mariners