SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Foster Griffin learned a new grip for his curveball in 2017 and went to a two-seam grip on his changeup to give it more fade, but those are just a couple of examples of the sharp learning curve he used to solidify has stature as a promising left-hander in the Royals' system. The biggest tweak to his game has been sharpening his mental mechanics.
Griffin was a first-round Draft pick by the Royals in 2014, and stumbled a bit as he progressed through the system. By 2017, though, he'd shown the capacity to learn and adapt, landing in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and winning the 2017 Paul Splittorff Minor League Pitcher of the Year award while being named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star and appearing in the All-Star Futures Game.
Now he's in his first big league training camp, ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 10 prospect for the Royals, and he's pushing himself to make another leap to Omaha.
"I'm going to do everything I can to compete for a spot in Triple-A," Griffin said Sunday. "Then I'm just an injury away. Prove to the front office and the coaches here that I'm able to play in the big leagues. If someone goes down or a trade happens I can be a knock on the door. That's the main goal."
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For a pitcher drafted with the potential the Royals saw in him, Griffin is not content to return to Double-A, where he made 18 starts in 2017. Between Class A Wilmington and Double-A last year, Griffin combined to go 15-7 with a 3.35 ERA, posting 141 strikeouts against just 54 walks in 161 1/3 innings.
"I used to give hitters way too much credit," Griffin said, focusing on the key development that led to last year's success. "I'd nibble at the corners way too much early in counts. I would fall behind if I didn't hit those counts. 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, even 3-1, and you have to come to them after that. With these professional hitters, it really doesn't matter how hard you throw, they're going to be able to hit the ball a long way if it's over the center of the plate.
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"So last year my mental approach was just attack the zone early, attack the hitters, and then you can go to the corner after that. That was a big key for me mentally."
Griffin doesn't have overpowering stuff, using a mix of a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a curveball and a changeup, while adapting from game to game to use whatever he can to keep opposing hitters off balance. As a result, Griffin's repertoire is leading him to learn more about pitching than other prospects who might have more dominating raw stuff and get by in the Minors without fine-tuning the mental game.
"I like his stuff, I like his demeanor, I like his actions," manager Ned Yost said, noting that this spring camp may be more important for what Griffin can take out of it than what Yost can see from Griffin.
"This is a great experience for young guys -- first time in big league Spring Training, being around the veteran guys, getting to watch big league baseball games with guys they've heard about and read about at the Major League level and get a chance to see them play. See how these guys go about their business, what are their routines like, what are their personalities like, and how do they prepare every single day to step out on that field."
Griffin has taken full advantage of the opportunity, picking the brains of pitchers like Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy while relishing the chance to take the mound in Cactus League games and test himself in a big league environment.
"You want to pitch against the best of the best," Griffin said. "That's what gets you better."