Royals pitching prospect Foster Griffin was given two lists his senior year of high school.
Sports agents to consider on one — and those to stay away from on the other.
Griffin hadn’t asked for it. He had barely just wrapped his mind around becoming a prospect the previous summer, after hitting a 5-inch growth spurt that shot him up to his listed 6-foot-3 frame and helped him break the low 90s with his fastball. Even as a sophomore at The First Academy in Orlando, Fla., he assumed he would pursue golf because he didn’t have colleges offering him baseball scholarships yet.
But when those offers started to trickle in, Griffin’s name popped up on radars across the country — including that of former Royals pitcher Zack Greinke.
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The two had met years earlier, when Griffin was 10 years old and Greinke sought lessons from Griffin’s father, Fred, who has been a PGA professional and served as the director of the Grand Cypress Academy of Golf in Orlando for more than 30 years. They hit golf balls next to each other and played rounds once in a while. Baseball wasn’t much of a conversation topic back then.
“I knew that he was a baseball player but I didn’t know how good he was and the greatness that he was,” Griffin said.
When Greinke returned for golf lessons after the 2013 season, he took a seat in Fred Griffin’s office and started jotting down names on those two lists.
“I thought that was really cool and really nice for him to do,” the younger Griffin said.
Griffin wound up choosing Greinke’s agent from the list. The two of them have maintained a relationship ever since, throwing side sessions to Royals catcher Drew Butera and playing catch in the offseason.
Baseball is pretty much all they talk about now.
“It’s a very small world,” Griffin said.
Drafted 28th overall in the 2014 draft, Griffin is the ninth-best prospect in the Royals organization according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings. He struggled in his first two full seasons in the organization — he recorded a 5.44 ERA at Class A Lexington in 2015 and a 5.43 ERA between Lexington and Class A-Advanced Wilmington in 2016 — but enjoyed success last year.
Griffin, a left-hander, played in the All-Star Futures Game and compiled a 3.35 ERA over 28 starts and 161 1/3 innings between Wilmington and Class AA Northwest Arkansas last season.
In his first big-league spring training camp, Griffin has thrown two innings and allowed four hits and one earned run in two games. He is a non-roster invitee and likely destined to return to Northwest Arkansas to start the season.
Griffin, 22, is the latest in a series of weekly Q&As with Royals prospects.
The Star: I know your first couple of seasons were kind of bumpy. You would go up and down. Last year, though, you kind of put it together. What was it that did it for you?
Griffin: It was a more mental approach than mechanical for me. I think the first couple full seasons I was really trying to — I was pitching a little scared of the hitters. Not — I was just going too much towards the corners. I was trying to nibble at corners instead of trying to get strike one and put them behind in the count.
So last year I tried to focus on more the thirds of the plate instead of going towards the corners to get ahead. That really helped to put them down 0-1, 0-2, to get me ahead in the count and they’re battling from there. So that mental approach really helped. Just attack the zone more and make them put it in play as opposed to me falling behind in the count and I’ve got to come over the middle of them. That’s when these professional hitters, no matter how hard you throw, they can do damage.
The Star: So it was more of a confidence thing, not necessarily a command of your pitches thing?
Griffin: Yeah, it was more mental, and then I made some small adjustments with my curveball grip.
The previous years it was much more, like, loopy and slow and pop out of my hands, so I changed that. It’s shorter and sharper and later. That was a big adjustment. And trusting myself, mainly. I wouldn’t have the confidence in my pitches that I had. So that was a big thing for me. If you throw anything with conviction, the same arm speed and everything is going to look a lot better to the hitters and give them more of a chance to swing.
The Star: How did you get in that mind-set? Like you, finally you’re at the end of 2016 and you’re like, I need to let it go?
Griffin: It was just like, you know, I haven’t had a good year yet. You know, it’s just me, this is my career, I need to go out and prove something. So that was really my mind-set. I was like, I’m gonna prove, I’m gonna mentally think that I’m better than each hitter that steps in the box and I’ve gotta prove to them that I’m gonna get them out. So that mental approach really helped me out.
The Star: Any veterans specifically that you gravitate toward?
Griffin: Being left-handed, I like the way (Danny) Duffy works. I like the way his mechanics are. Every single one of them, really, have been very open arms to us, which has been really cool. I can’t thank them enough and I think that’s just part of the Royals organization and the guys they bring in.
The Star: When you say you’ve liked Duffy’s mechanics, do you mimic them?
Griffin: No, because I think every pitcher is different, so I don’t think you go out and blatantly mimic him. But his front side is really good, his mound presence is really good. The way he attacks hitters, he doesn’t give them any credit. He’s like, 'I’m better than you no matter what. I’m gonna go out and shove it,' you know. So that mental approach that he has is really great.
The Star: Have you picked his brain at all on how he developed that? Was he kind of in the same spot as you?
Griffin: Not really. I’ve talked to him in bits and pieces.
He said he was young when he made it to the big leagues, and he said he was probably too young when he made it to the big leagues. So, you know, it was a learning experience for him. I’m glad I’ve been able to have that learning experience already in the minor leagues.
The front office here always tells us, like, you’re gonna have struggles in the big leagues. Everybody is. So if you’ve already had them in the minor leagues, you know how to overcome them. You know, you can overcome them a lot faster once you get to the big leagues. So I think that’s a big advantage. And that’s something, you know, he flew through the minor leagues and he didn’t really have so many bumps in the road. But he got to the big leagues and he had some struggles, I think, and he went and just overcame them and he’s been really great ever since.
The Star: So those struggles that you had, they haven’t really discouraged you?
Griffin: Not at all. Especially the year that I had last year was encouraging. So I know my stuff plays and I’m able to get guys out with the stuff that I have. So just going into this year, you know, I kinda go after the same mental approach and use my stuff and attack hitters the same way and see how it plays out.
The Star: Getting through the end of camp, do you have an ideal situation, as far as your development and your growth goes, what is it that you want to learn? What’s your number-one goal you want to get from this?
Griffin: You know, just learning experience. I wanna take in all the baseball knowledge that I can. I’m gonna fill it up and be able to use that to get to the big leagues. That’s the goal. That’s been the goal since I was a kid and the goal since I got drafted. My time will come. It’s not something you really wanna just rush into. You don’t wanna get into the big leagues too soon, like I was saying. But at the same time you wanna get there. But you wanna be able to get there and be prepared.
So that would be the big thing is just take in all the knowledge here that you can that can mentally prepare you for that time when the call comes.