2013 marks the Tampa Bay Rays’ draft in their brief history as a major league baseball franchise. In just one of those drafts did the Rays’ first left-handed pitcher selected come after the 13th round. In 2013, the Rays equaled their second-latest time drafting a lefty when their first was Ben Griset out of St. Mary’s in the 13th round. But in making Griset their first lefty selected, the Rays may have found themselves an interesting pitcher for that late in the draft.
Unlike the Rays’ previous three college picks before the 13th round, Ben Griset is only a junior. He isn’t a money-saving pick and there’s no guarantee he will sign. The Rays’ bonus pool is unaffected as long as any player they select after the 10th round receives a bouns of $100,000 or less, and Griset could very well receive a bonus right around there. But coming along with the marginal risk that comes with drafting Griset as a junior also comes additional potential, and that’s a gamble the Rays are more than willing to take.
Griset isn’t being selected this late in the draft for no reason. In addition to the fact that the Rays’ didn’t want to risk him not signing, he has his flaws. A 6’0″, 190 lefty who may have a little projection remaining, Griset’s fastball really isn’t so impressive right now. He stays primarily in the 89-90 MPH range, sparingly touching 92, and despite his mediocre velocity, he doesn’t command it very well. Griset does get some movement towards right-handed batters on his fastball, but his height doesn’t lend its way to a real downward angle on his pitches and he leaves too many offerings up in the zone, leading to more than a hit per inning against him even in the West Coast Conference, not an elite college conference. More advanced hitters would get him for a whole lot more than a bunch of singles. But Griset makes up for much of his fastball deficiencies with an outstanding curveball, the pitch he trusts the most when the game is on the line.
Griset’s mid-70’s curveball comes in with huge 12-to-6 break. When Griset stays on top of his curveball, it breaks late with incredible depth, free-falling from a hitter’s shoulders to his knees as it approaches the plate. Griset does a good job both locating it for strikes at the bottom of the zone and starting it at the hitter’s waist and letting it disappear into the dirt as the hitter wonders why in the world he swung. Griset’s curveball isn’t always that good as he will lose his arm slot at times and hang it up in the zone, but at its best it can be a true plus offering. Griset completes his arsenal with a changeup, although he has never been able to get much of a feel for it. As we’ve repeating ad nauseum in these draft reports, though, if there’s any organization a pitcher wants to join to hone his changeup, it’s the Rays’.
If he signs, Ben Griset will enter the professional ranks with his curveball carrying him but the rest of his arsenal, specifically his fastball command and changeup, needing plenty of work. But down in the 13th round, that’s about what you’re going to get and the Rays will hope to work with him to smooth out the edges. We will have to see whether Griset can improve to the point where he can remain a starter, but even if he doesn’t develop enough for that to happen, his curveball could be critical to a potential career in middle relief, possibly as a lefty specialist. Griset having this kind of breaking ball gives him options for the future and a better chance to succeed than your average 13th round pick. By carrying just a little bit more risk by selecting a college junior, the Rays were able to find a pitcher in Griset with impressive upside for this late in the draft, and we’ll have to see what will happen with him from here.