Minor League Prospect Report: Jonathan Griffin, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona Diamondbacks first base prospect Jonathan Griffin was one of the most prolific sluggers in the minors in 2012. He wasn't a hot prospect pre-season, but he reached Double-A in his first professional campaign. People are taking notice, and it's time we did too.
After two strong years in the junior college ranks, Griffin played at the University of Central Florida, hitting .299/.389/.539 with 13 homers, 27 walks, and 51 strikeouts in 204 at-bats as a junior in 2010, then .343/.394/.661 with 19 homers, 22 walks, and 55 strikeouts in 251 at-bats as a senior in 2011. Scouts respected his power production, but he's got a huge body (6-7, 250), hits right-handed (a handicap for a first baseman), and the rest of his tools didn't stand out.
He lasted until the 21st round in the 2011 draft. Assigned to Missoula in the rookie-level Pioneer League, he hit .295/.355/.532 with 18 homers, 29 walks, and 77 strikeouts in 278 at-bats. It was good to see his home run power translate to pro ball, but the Pioneer League is a friendly place to hit. As a college senior, scouts expected he would do well, so there was a lot of "wait and see" entering 2012.
Griffin opened 2012 with High-A Visalia in the California League, a reasonable "get to it" assignment for a 23-year-old first baseman. He had few problems, hitting .300/.363/.511 with 19 doubles, 26 homers, 49 walks, and 107 strikeouts this year. Promoted to Double-A Mobile at the end of the season, he went 7-for-16 (.438) with a pair of home runs, one walk, and just one strikeout. Overall, he hit .304/.366/.523 this season with 20 doubles, 28 homers, 102 RBI, 50 walks, and 108 strikeouts in 503 at-bats.
Griffin has one strong tool but it's a good one: enormous power. Scouts were concerned that his large size could make him vulnerable to inside fastballs, or that he might try to pull outside pitches for power too frequently, giving problems with stuff on the outer half. Neither were big issues in the California League, he reduced his strikeout rate compared to his pro debut, and his pure hitting skills were better than anticipated.
On the negative side, he lacks speed and didn't even attempt a stolen base this year. He has some athleticism, and his arm is strong enough that he pitched in high school. While his glove is limited to first base, he can play there if he hits enough.
Will Griffin hit enough, or will advanced pitching reveals flaws that college and A-ball pitching could not?
Baseball history is littered with similar prospects who couldn't make the transition. Of course, the Diamondbacks had good luck with Paul Goldschmidt, who rode a similar skill set (with four fewer inches in height) into a major league job. With no DH spot available and a fine first baseman already on the roster, there's no need to rush Griffin to Arizona. He can safely return to Double-A to open 2013, but given his age, an aggressive promotion to Triple-A seems reasonable if he keeps hitting. Let's see how much noise Griffin makes next spring.