The Royals seem likely headed to another rebuilding phase. Hopefully this one won’t take 30 years but in the meantime it’s important to find the bits of joy that can be found in the absence of likely wins. For decades, Royals fans subsisted on the hopes and dreams of prospects and we find ourselves in an opportunity to do so once again. While it’s true that none of the Royals farmhands are ranking on any of the top 100 prospect lists out there that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope. Yordano Ventura, Salvador Perez, and Greg Holland never made top any 100 prospect lists, either, after all.
If you’re looking for a good comeback story you could do a lot worse than Foster Griffin. The 6-3, 200lb left-hander was born in Orlando, Florida and given the birth name of Fred Foster Griffin on July 25, 1995. He’s still only 22-years-old and very much in prime prospect age. He had just completed his high school degree at The First Academy, a Christian private school in Orlando, when the Royals used their compensatory choice to select Griffin with the number 28 overall pick in the 2014 draft immediately following the first round. The Royals received that pick when Ervin Santana signed with Atlanta before that season following his rejection of the Royals’ Qualifying Offer.
Griffin was assigned to Rookie ball in Burlington where he performed adequately but didn’t really stand out. In 2015 he started the year at Low-A Lexington where he hit his first speed bump and finished the year with a 5.44 ERA. He repeated the level in 2016 but after seven starts at a 3.38 ERA with increased strikeouts and fewer walks he was promoted to the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks where he again struggled, finishing the year with a 6.23 ERA in 20 starts. In what should be a familiar pattern at this point he started off well enough at High-A in 2017 - including striking out more than a batter per inning - and earned his promotion to Northwest Arkansas. This is when he broke the pattern and started to appear on prospect radars, again. He had a few rough starts in AA but for the most part he pitched very well. His strikeouts diminished but so did his walks as he gained better control.
Griffin throws four pitches; a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a curveball. His fastballs lack velocity, but with such a large frame at age 22, the Royals are still hoping he will grow into a bit more. He currently sits in the high 80s and tops out at 93. The changeup and curveball are both highly regarded with MLB’s Prospect Watch rating them at 55 on the 20-80 grading scale. Royals Director of Minor League Operations Ronnie Richardson told reporters following the 2017 season that Griffin’s curveball had improved. Royals Farm Report had this to say about him back in November:
The changeup also has really good armside run (or fade) which makes it very tough on RHHs. This is a great pitch for him. Griffin also throws a curve that has more of 1-7 movement on it. The shape of the curve is late movement with tight break. He doesn’t throw one of those big looping curveballs that has a lot of people dropping their jaw. But when every pitch comes out of the same tunnel and moves differently, it can be quite perplexing as a hitter. And I will say from watching several of his outings last year that Griffin does a really good job tunnelling. I saw good and bad Foster last year.
You can get an idea of his pitch types and movement from this video taken from an exhibition game during his senior year in high school:
He was the lone Royals’ representative in the Futures Game last season where he pitched two-thirds of an inning, retiring #1 overall prospect Ronald Acuna on a line drive to center and striking out Yankees’ prospect Estevan Florial. MLB.com rated Foster Griffin as the Royals’ sixth-best prospect in their mid-season prospect update, last year. Minor League Baseball rates him as the fourth-best prospect in the system. But Baseball America is only willing to go as high as naming him the Royals ninth-best prospect. Our own Shaun Newkirk said he’s one of the Royals’ prospects to watch:
In my top 60 list last year, I ranked Griffin the Royals 57th prospect. He proceeded to put up one of his best seasons, but I’m still not quite on the train yet for various reasons that I’ll go into in my list this season. Griffin though inarguably boosted his stock and is now some sort of prospect, different than he may have been this time last year. Griffin could return to AA, but it seems likely he’ll head to AAA if not immediately then soon after the start of the season. By some opinions, he’s the best pitching prospect in the system, so his possible success in AAA could cement that idea for those opinionators.
Foster Griffin was invited to spring training this year and will get at least a small taste of the major league life. However, almost every scout and analyst searchable on the internet thinks he needs at least one more year of seasoning before he’ll be ready to pitch for the big club so he will probably spend most of the year in AAA but might be ready to contribute next season or perhaps late this year. Some scouts have compared him to Cole Hamels on the strength of his changeup, but the lack of elite velocity means he’s more likely to be a solid mid-to-back of the rotation starter when he does arrive in a year or two.