In 2010, A.J. Griffin was the Oakland Athletics‘ 13th round pick as a senior sign out of the University of San Diego. Two years later, he was in the major leagues. Three years later, Aaron Griffin, A.J.’s younger brother, has been selected by the Rays in the 10th round as a senior sign from Loyola Marymount. The Rays are hoping that he can make a similar leap.
Like his brother, Aaron Griffin is a tall right-hander (6’4″, 210) without an overpowering fastball, staying primarily in the high-80′s while touching 90 MPH. That’s about where the comparison ends, though. A.J. never did a great job harnessing his height to get a good downward plane on his pitches, being home prone even since his college days but Aaron’s ability to keep the ball down is one of his biggest assets as a pitcher. When he’s right, Griffin gets good sink and solid run on his fastball and does a got job spotting it at the bottom of the zone. A.J. is a fastball-curveball type of pitcher while Aaron is really a sinker-slider guy, and Aaron’s slider has actually flashed plus occasionally with sharp late break. Griffin also throws a changeup, although it is not nearly the caliber of his brother’s plus offering at this point. The Rays, as is their organizational strategy, will begin working with him on his changeup to try to change that as soon as possible.
Griffin throws all of his pitches from a very deceptive delivery, extending his left leg pronouncedly to his right as he gets ready to deliver, and he basically starts on the left side of the mound before actually letting go of his pitches much farther to the right. That makes it very tough for hitters, especially right-handed ones, to keep track of the ball, but it also causes his arm slots to go on the fritz at times. It’s impressive how Griffin has adjusted enough to his motion that he doesn’t have too much of an issue throwing strikes, but sometimes it causes him to get under the ball, which in turn makes him leave his sinker up and hang his slider. He has to find a way to rectify that with alacrity because you can’t leave the ball up when you’re throwing 88 MPH and expect to be successful. Look for the Rays to try to tone down his delivery to try to prevent his release angle from slipping, especially because they’re planning to use him as a starting pitcher to begin his professional career. It’s not hard to picture him as an extremely good right-handed specialist, but he shows enough stuff to start down the line and the Rays will keep him in that role as long as they can.
The fact that his brother made the major leagues and has pitched well the last couple of years has no impact on Aaron Griffin. He’s a different person and a divergent pitcher, and it’s going to be up to him to catch the Rays’ eyes like his brother did with the A’s and rise quickly through the minor leagues. Especially in an organization loaded with pitching, Griffin is never going to be a top prospect. He will have to make significant strides with his secondary pitches and continuously prove that his command and deception are enough to overcome his unimpressive fastball velocity if he wants to keep advancing. It will be tough and there are certainly no guarantees, but let’s see if he can emulate his brother and pitch better than anyone could have thought right from the moment his pro career begins.