ALSO SEE: Lone Star Dugout Q&A with Justin Grimm
Less than two years after he signed with the Texas Rangers as a fifth-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, right-hander Justin Grimm is set to make his major league debut.
Grimm, who isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, will have his contract purchased from Double-A Frisco in time to start the Rangers’ game against the Houston Astros on Saturday evening.
Of course, there’s always the outside chance that the Rangers have a last-second change of heart and opt to go with the “Johnny Allstaff” approach. That was the case in July 2008 when the Rangers announced they were calling up lefty Mike Ballard only to ultimately decide on three innings of reliever Warner Madrigal followed by the remainder of the bullpen. But it appears likely Grimm will get the nod on Saturday.
Regardless of how well Grimm pitches on Saturday, he’s perhaps likely (although not certain) to be optioned back to the minor leagues after the start. The club will get rotation help from a day off next Thursday, and veteran starter Roy Oswalt could make his Rangers debut sometime next weekend.
When the Rangers selected Grimm out of the University of Georgia in 2010, his above-average fastball velocity and promising swing-and-miss curveball were evident. But his well above-slot $825,000 bonus was largely awarded on potential.
Despite flashing good raw stuff with the Bulldogs, Grimm had a cumulative 5.84 earned-run average with 204 hits allowed in 186.1 innings during his three-year collegiate career. His fastball often floated up in the zone and left him far more hittable than he should’ve been given his stuff.
The Rangers’ scouting staff felt that Grimm’s college mechanics were fixable, however, and saw the potential for better command with some adjustments. It was certainly a big factor in the club’s decision to give a relatively raw college arm such a healthy signing bonus.
While working through the regular season last year, Grimm began to smooth out his mechanics by eliminating some of the effort––including a head jerk that pulled his body off-line and kept him from locating his fastball. While he showed flashes of smooth mechanics and good location last spring, it was inconsistent. But he gradually made improvements throughout the year.
The Virginia native finished his first full season––in 2011––with strong results between Single-A Hickory and High-A Myrtle Beach, posting a 3.39 ERA in 25 starts. Over 140.2 innings, he allowed 129 hits, walked 48, and struck out 127. Near the end of last season, Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman was satisfied with Grimm’s mechanical progress.
“He had a tendency––when he got here from Hickory, I know that he had worked on some things,” Holman said during the summer of 2011. “But what I saw from him was at the top of his balance point, he wanted to attack the pitch. What that created was like a bob or a hop in his delivery. You could literally see his head popping up and down.
“So what we’ve done is transitioned into basically another stage of the delivery. Instead of going or attacking from a balance point, it’s learning to balance, prepare, and then throw. What that does is that it creates the head going backwards in more of an arc into the pitch––so he doesn’t have that up-and-down factor.
“I think he’s doing really, really well with it. He still––for the first couple outings after we implemented it, it still showed up. But it’s pretty consistent now.”
Grimm’s mechanics remained relatively smooth this spring, and it’s something that continues to develop. His command has also followed suit, as he’s doing a fantastic job of locating his fastball down in the strike zone––his biggest issue dating back to his college days.
Although Grimm’s four-seam fastball lacks much movement, he’s begun mixing in the occasional two-seam fastball with Double-A Frisco this season. While the pitch has plus life, showing some armside run with a little sink, it's something Grimm is still developing and not mixing into games too often at this point. Still, the solid fastball command has helped him limit the Texas League competition to three home runs in 13 starts.
The 23-year-old prospect is having an all-around fantastic campaign with the RoughRiders. Through those 13 starts, he has a 1.87 ERA. In 77 innings, he has yielded 65 hits, walked only 14, and struck out 67.
The fastball command––once well below-average––has become a plus for Grimm. He’s sat between 91-93 mph on the radar gun for much of the season but is showing more 92-93 in recent starts, reaching up to 94-96 when he needs extra velocity. In his most recent outing versus Midland on June 10, Grimm touched as high as 96 mph.
His mid-70s to low-80s breaker––more like a hard slurve––was a plus pitch out of college and has remained a solid offering, though it has been slightly inconsistent at times. The same is true of his low-80s changeup.
In addition to his mechanics, Grimm’s other primary focus since signing has been the development of his changeup––a pitch he rarely, if ever, threw in college. He began relying on it heavily late last season with High-A Myrtle Beach, throwing it 20-plus times per start down the stretch.
“Right now, he is probably pitching a little bit outside the box according to his stuff,” Holman said last August. “We’re trying to advocate the use of secondary pitches while even or behind in the count situations. We want to get it to where he can learn to command those pitches and not feel the need to have to just challenge or give into a hitter just because he’s behind in the count.”
Holman said part of the process is teaching lower-level pitchers to focus more on the development than their numbers and getting immediate results.
“I think it’s just getting him to buy into the fact that we’re trying to prepare them to pitch in the big leagues––not necessarily getting too concerned with their success in Low-A ball or High-A ball. And I think, and it’s a tribute to him, that he gets that. He sees the big picture.”
That work has paid off. Not only does Grimm have three usable pitches this season, but he also flashes three plus pitches at times. His changeup has been his most reliable secondary offering at times with Frisco.
Grimm still runs into occasional issues with ‘babying’ his changeup––slowing down his arm speed from time to time and causing the change to float to the plate. But, for the most part, it’s a strong offering at present and could become a consistent plus pitch with more seasoning.
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound hurler has pitched particularly well in his last four starts, as his command and pitchability with his entire arsenal continues to improve. He’s yielded just three runs over his last 27 innings, giving up 23 hits while walking three and striking out 21.
Scouts initially felt Grimm was destined to become a two-pitch, back-of-the-bullpen type reliever. But as the righty continues to improve his arsenal, command, and ability to mix three pitches, he looks more and more like a future starting pitcher with mid-rotation potential.
And as much as he’s developed over the last year––just his second full season in professional ball––it’d be hard to believe that he’s done improving.
Justin Grimm vs. Corpus Christi: 4/22/2012 (best viewed in full screen and HD).
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