Texas Rangers rookie right-hander Justin Grimm was named American League Rookie of the Month for April by Major League Baseball. We haven't talked about Grimm in awhile and he won't be a "prospect" much longer at this rate, so let's correct that and take a look at his past, present, and possible future as today's Prospect of the Day.
Justin Grimm caught the attention of scouts while pitching high school baseball in Bristol, Virginia. He was seen as a solid third or fourth round talent entering the 2007 draft, but fell to the 13th round due to questions about signability and a University of Georgia commitment. He also had an unusual injury on his resume: he broke his arm when he fell down in a parking lot and at one point he had a pin inserted into his elbow to stabilize the bone. Scouts felt that with proper development in college, he could turn into a first-round pick for 2010.
He had serious control problems as a freshman, posting a 10.91 ERA with a 27/24 K/BB in 31 innings, but improved dramatically as a sophomore with a 4.15 ERA and a 72/26 K/BB in 78 innings. It looked like he could very well be a very early pick heading into 2010.
The '10 season was a disappointment however. Due to mechanical problems, his command went backwards as a junior, resulting in a 5.49 ERA and a 73/35 K/BB in 77 innings. Still, the Rangers saw a lot to like: premium athleticism, a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a sharp-breaking (if inconsistent) curve. They felt his problems were fixable in pro ball, so they drafted him in the fifth round. He signed late but got an above-slot $825,000 bonus.
Grimm's pro debut in 2011 was successful: a 3.40 ERA with a 54/18 K/BB in 50 innings for Low-A Hickory, followed by a 3.39 ERA with a 73/30 K/BB in 90 innings for High-A Myrtle Beach. He made good strides improving command of his fastball and curve, while adding a circle change to his arsenal and smoothing out his mechanics.
He looked strong enough in the spring of 2012 that he made his major league debut in June, little more than two years out of college, making two starts along with three relief appearances for the Rangers last year. His 9.00 ERA was problematic and he gave up 22 hits in 14 innings, but he also posted a sharp 13/3 K/BB. He dominated the Texas League (1.72 ERA in 14 starts, 73/14 K/BB in 84 innings) and was erratic but promising in Triple-A (4.59 ERA in eight starts, 30/16 K/BB in 51 innings). And of course he's back in the big leagues now, with a 2.28 ERA in four starts, a 24/8 K/BB in 23.2 innings, and a 3.08 FIP.
Grimm is a 6-3, 200 pound right-hander born August 16, 1988. His fastball tops out at 95-96 MPH and is usually in the low-90s, though occasionally it falls into the 87-90 range. He relies on his impressive curveball as his main breaking pitch, but will mix in some occasional cutters and sliders. His change-up was poor when he came into pro ball, but it has greatly improved over the last two years and he now has a complete four-pitch arsenal. Despite serious issues with command and consistency in college, he's generally done well locating his pitches in pro ball.
As long as he remains healthy and continues to throw strikes, Grimm looks like he can be a solid mid-rotation starter. Although he has an unattractive 4.78 ERA in his first 37.2 major league innings, his FIP (2.98) and xFIP (3.52) are much better and more reflective of his talent level than the raw ERA.