Griffin Jax is a young man who is easy to root for. He is also someone the Kansas City Royals should consider acquiring in the Rule 5 draft.
Griffin Jax is a talented young right-handed pitcher that could help the Kansas City Royals improve their pitching staff right now. He is also available in the Rule 5 draft, mostly because of bizarre circumstances beyond his control.
When Jax was originally drafted out of high school in 2013 he opted not to go pro and instead went to the Air Force Academy. By 2016 he was throwing over 100 innings with an ERA of 2.05. The Minnesota Twins wisely grabbed him in the 3rd round that year. From here, things get incredibly complicated.
In 2016, the Department of Defense announced that they would allow military academy graduates to play professionally if they were offered the opportunity, rather than serve out their two years of active duty upon graduation. So, the Twins were smart to grab a player like Griffin Jax. And Griffin Jax was smart to skip his final year of college eligibility.
However, in 2017, just a few weeks before Jax was set to graduate from the Air Force Academy, governmental bureaucratic calamity would ensue, throwing everything into doubt. The Department of Defense would rescind their earlier announcement and decide that, upon further review, they would not allow their graduates to play professionally immediately after graduation. And all graduates would, again, be required to spend two years immediately on active duty before they could apply for reserve status and begin their professional sports careers.
Months later, the DOD – yep, the very same people – threw a new wrinkle into the chaos by deciding that they would allow certain athletes to play professionally if they were performing in an Olympic sport, which baseball is once again. So, Jax would spend his first few years as a pro being pushed and pulled back and forth like a yo-yo.
To make matters even more complicated, the Air Force would not allow him to accept money from the Twins and the Twins could not allow him to play for them without paying him. Ultimately, they would find a compromise where the Twins would cover his expenses while the Air Force would pay him a salary. Is that all perfectly clear now? No?? Well, welcome to the life of Griffin Jax for the last few years.
At the end of all this insanity, Jax was only able to throw just over 127 innings of minor league ball prior to 2019. In his 19 starts over those 3 years, he produced about what would be expected of a third-round pick. He threw almost 88 innings of A+ ball in 2018 with a WHIP of 1.23.
In 2019 Jax was finally able to throw a real season’s worth of pitches. He would double his innings totals for his minor league career. Over those 127.1 innings of AA and AAA ball, he maintained an ERA of 2.90 and a WHIP of 1.13.
Griffin Jax has never been and will never be a big strikeout pitcher. His last season in the Air Force he walked a minuscule 1.7 per nine innings. Last season, in the upper levels of the Twins minor league system, he walked 1.9 per nine innings. He shows great control of his pitches and of the strike zone. These are skills the Royals’ pitching staff could use.
He has a low 90s fastball that he knows how to move around the zone. His changeup is an above-average weapon. His slider has shown some promise, but it is possible he never develops into more than a two-pitch back-end starter or a useful long reliever. And, frankly, the Royals could use either of those. You can see in the below video from 2080 Baseball, that he is a “pitch to poor contact” type of starter that will perform best with a good defense behind him.
Jax just turned 25 years old. He will see some big-league time this season. I believe he is a young man with enough skills that the Royals could find a spot for him on their roster. I also do not think he would be available in the Rule 5 draft, except for all the bizarre stops and starts that have occurred in his professional minor league career.
Griffin Jax is a young pitcher worth taking a chance on. He appears poised to become the first Air Force Academy graduate to pitch in Major League Baseball. The Royals should make sure he achieves that milestone in Kansas City. Of course, there is also the possibility that the Air Force makes him return to active duty after the 2020 Olympics, as well.