Prospect of the Day: A.J. Griffin, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Oakland Athletics rookie pitcher A.J. Griffin made his major league debut last weekend, giving up two runs on three hits and a walks against the San Francisco Giants, fanning four. He wasn't well-known outside Athletics fandom pre-season, but he's a solid prospect who deserves attention.
A.J. Griffin had an excellent season as a freshman closer for the University of San Diego in 2007, saving 11 games with a 2.70 ERA and a 65/23 K/BB ratio in 63 innings. He was even more effective as a sophomore in '08, lowering his ERA to 1.96, saving 14 with a 49/12 K/BB in 46 innings. Moved to the starting rotation as a junior in '09, he went 8-3, 3.33 with an 85/32 K/BB in 81 innings. Starting again as a senior in '10, he went 8-3 with a higher 4.47 ERA, but maintained good component ratios with a 113/28 k/BB in 99 innings. That was enough for him to earn a spot in the draft, going in the 13th round as an affordable senior. Griffin was used as a reliever in the Northwest League after signing, but this was mainly a move to limit his innings. He performed very well, saving 15 games with a 2.95 ERA and a 27/7 K/BB in 21 innings.
Returned to the starting rotation in 2011, Griffin began with a 1.56 ERA in 52 innings for Low-A Burlington, with a 46/5 K/BB. Promoted to Stockton in the High-A California League, he posted a 3.57 ERA with an 82/14 K/BB in 71 innings. A six-start trial for Double-A Midland was more difficult, with a 6.47 ERA and a 20/11 K/BB in 32 innings with 39 hits allowed, but he did put in a solid start for Triple-A Sacramento (eight strikeouts in six innings, three runs). Overall, Griffin went 11-7 in 27 starts last year, with a 3.47 ERA and a 156/32 K/BB in 161 innings, allowing 145 hits.
Griffin began 2012 with Double-A Midland, going 3-1, 2.49 in seven starts with a 44/7 K/BB in 43 innings. Promoted to Sacramento, he had no problems with the Pacific Coast League and posted a 2.81 ERA with a 40/7 K/BB in 51 innings with 41 hits allowed. Overall, he has a 3.10 ERA in 282 minor league innings, with a 273/53 K/BB and 232 hits allowed.
Arthur Joseph (A.J.) Griffin was born January 28th 1988 in El Cajon, California. A 6-5, 230 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, he works with an 88-92 MPH fastball, mixing in a curveball, slider, and changeup. The changeup is his best secondary offering, but he's not afraid to use his breaking pitches, and he's aggressive with the fastball. A fly ball pitcher, he can get touched for home runs if he makes a mistake up in the strike zone, but his command is generally very solid. This shows up in his excellent K/BB ratios, and despite his average velocity, his strikeout rates are generally good, which testifies to the quality of secondary pitches.
Griffin lacks the physical upside and plus velocity to be a genuine ace, but he knows how to pitch, makes adjustments, and has had few problems with professional hitters. He has a strong physical build, repeats his mechanics well, and has had no serious health issues. I don't see any reason why he can't be a solid strike-throwing inning-eater going forward.