Burlington, N.C. .–
WHEN YOU SEE Foster Griffin walk out to the mound at Burlington Athletic Stadium, it is clear what the Kansas City Royals saw when they made the high school lefty the No. 28 overall pick in last month’s draft.
At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Orlando, Florida native has modest physical projectability. There is room to grow on his frame.
But when an organization drafts a high school pitcher – especially a lefty – it knows the maturation and development curve will not necessarily follow in a straight line. Sunday night as Burlington played host to the Kingsport Mets in an Appalachian League contest, these things were apparent.
In his sixth start, limited to a 50-pitch count, Griffin lasted 2 2/3 inconsistent innings, allowing four hits, two walks and a run while striking out two. It marked just the second time in those outings that Griffin was touched for a run, but it was the third time he has walked two batters and the four hits allowed was a season-high.
Kingsport managed the damage by throwing a lineup of eight righthanded batters at Griffin, effectively forcing Griffin to make a conscious choice regarding his fastball, which tails away from righties.
Griffin, perhaps fearful of catching the plate should he come inside, chose to paint the outside, a move that backfired when the umpire Garon Keuten refused to give him the location.
Forced to come inward by the strike zone, Griffin proved imminently hittable as his fastball seemed to straighten out when thrown down in the zone (though it did tick up a bit from its 88-90 mph velocity).
Griffin’s other offerings are a curve ball with a small, sharp break and tilt, and a modest changeup. Depending on the scouting report, Griffin’s change is considered his go-to secondary pitch, but on Sunday night when things went his way, all three pitches worked together in concert.
The best example of this came at the end of the second inning when Griffin flummoxed Ivan Wilson with a fastball that caught the outside corner, a change that bit the inside and an unhittable curve that missed the plate. Griffin finished Wilson off with a perfectly placed tailing fastball that dove away from a lunging swing.
The next batter Griffin faced showed just how much more work remains to be done. Leading off the third inning, lefthanded No. 9 hitter Luis Guillorme never had to lift the bat off his shoulder as Griffin missed with four consecutive fastballs, each failing to catch the inside part of the plate.
Again, some of that goes back to umpire Keuten’s strike zone, but it reveals where Griffin needs to work on his craft. Either by organizational design or his own preferences, Griffin does not pitch across his body. Against righthanders, that means never coming inside with his fastball and nibbling with his curve. Only with his changeup did he challenge inside.
Another four-pitch walk followed, but after a summit meeting with pitching coach Carlos Martinez, Griffin settled in for a pretty three-pitch looking strikeout of Oswald Carabello. The payoff was a curve that managed to bite off the outside corner.
Wullmer Becerra, who in the first inning had hit Griffin hard for a frozen-rope lineout to second, then punished Griffin with an RBI single on a full-count fastball that sat over the middle of the plate down in the zone.
When Griffin is mixing his pitches well (as he did against Wilson), he can be very effective. However, if he continues with whatever philosophy he employed Sunday night, he will become increasingly hittable as batters realize they can sit on his secondary offerings.
That’s not to say the secondary pitches are substandard – they are not. His fastball could become something special as well, despite likely never exceeding the low 90s.
What Griffin needs more than anything is confidence to bust righthanders inside. The natural tailing action on his fastball makes that a dicey proposition, so perhaps the best thing to do is develop some sort secondary fastball that he trusts in on the hands.
With a different strike zone Sunday night, it’s easy to envision a very different outcome than the one that transpired. Griffin could have nabbed at least two more strikeouts, avoiding a single by Jean Rodriguez and a double by Pedro Perez in the first inning.
The Royals’ history with lefthanded starting pitchers is downright apocalyptic. It isn’t a stretch to say the last successful lefthanded starter the Royals developed was Danny Jackson during the team’s wheelhouse years in the 1980s. There have been many near misses and it is possible current Royals hurler Danny Duffy is the southpaw that finally breaks the jinx.
Griffin’s rise through the Royals’ ranks likely will be deliberate. He is the very definition of a developmental pick. His upside is obvious and his makeup is solid. All the pieces are there for him to become a complementary middle-of-the-rotation starter.