KC Royals: Griffin to get first Cactus start Wednesday

KC Royals (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
KC Royals (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) /

A former first-round draft pick is scheduled to make his first 2020 spring training start for the KC Royals Wednesday. Here are some things to know about him.

Two weeks after pitchers and catcher reported to spring camp, and five days since the KC Royals played their first exhibition game, prize KC prospect Brady Singer will make his second Cactus League appearance when he starts in a Wednesday road game. Because the spotlight will be Singer’s, the outing will likely attract more attention than the club’s split-squad home game against the White Sox, a contest Foster Griffin will start for Kansas City. Jeffrey Flanagan of mlb.com reported the matchups via Twitter:

For Griffin, it will be yet another day on his quest to prove the club was right when it made him a first-round draft pick in 2014, and another working in the shadows of other KC pitchers.

Despite his first-rounder status, Griffin immediately took a back seat to another Royal hurler. The club used the first of its two 2014 first-round draft picks to grab college phenom Brandon Finnegan with the 17th overall selection, 11 spots ahead of Griffin; Finnegan held the limelight the whole season by speeding his way to the majors and pitching in the World Series. Griffin started and stayed in Rookie ball and watched the Series from home.

The left-handed Griffin hardly looked like a first-round pick his first three seasons–he went 25-29 across Rookie, A and High A, including unsightly ERAs of 5.44 in 2015 at Lexington and a combined 5.43 the next year between Lexington and Wilmington (6.23 at the latter). But he blossomed in 2017, going 4-2 with a 2.86 ERA at Wilmington and 11-5 with a 3.61 ERA at Northwest Arkansas, his success probably due in part to a grip change and a new mental approach.

His visibility on the Royals’ radar enhanced, Griffin seemed destined for some time at AAA Omaha in 2018, but his 10-12 record and 5.13 ERA at Northwest Arkansas kept him in AA. And the limelight shifted once again when the Royals spent a bevy of 2018 draft picks on high-promise pitchers including Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan.

Griffin finally made it to Omaha last season and went 8-6 as a starter, but gave up too many runs (5.23 ERA, 5.92 RA9) and too many walks (4.41 BB9). He immediately took his work to the Dominican Winter League and showed improvement: in 23.1 innings, he walked six (2.3 BB9), struck out 31 (12.0 SO9) and lowered his WHIP to 1.157 from the 1.515 he posted at Omaha. The Royals added him to their 40-man roster in November, thus shielding him from the Rule 5 draft.

Griffin will strive Wednesday to continue that trend. Although he’s pitched in the Cactus League before, this will be his first start of the 2020 camp; he’ll rely on a low 90’s fastball, a curve and a changeup to make his first live game impression on new manager Mike Matheny, one he hopes will put him on the final part of a journey to Kauffman Stadium.

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Foster Griffin is slated to start one of the KC Royals’ Wednesday split-squad games. Although he has yet to equal in performance the promise of being a first-round draft selection, he could take a step in that direction against the White Sox.