Another year, another relatively unknown Oakland A's pitching prospect making is waves.
Over the past several years, the A's have produced several major league pitchers who were taken in the lower rounds of the MLB draft. A.J. Griffin was a 13th-round pick, while Dallas Braden and Dan Straily were each taken in the 24th-round. Now it is former 32nd-round pick Drew Granier who is threatening to follow in the footsteps of Griffin, Braden and Straily, among others.
It is Straily who Granier draws the most comparisons to. Both are right-handers who pitched for relatively low-profile collegiate programs (Straily for Marshall and Granier for University of Louisiana, Monroe). And both have made it a habit of striking out their competition.
Straily led all minor leaguers in strike-outs last season and Granier is looking to match that feat. Going into Friday's California League action, Granier had the most strike-outs of any pitcher in the league by a healthy margin (14). Granier's 80 strike-outs in 65 innings are the most in the A's system and are tied for the most in all of the minor leagues (Diamondbacks' top prospect Archie Bradley and Yankees' top prospect Rafael De Paula also have 80). In his last start, Granier matched his career-high with 12 strike-outs.
It isn't an accident that Granier has a high strike-out total. The right-hander admits that he pitches to strike hitters out.
"I've pretty much always been a strike-out guy," Granier said. "I like strike-outs. I'm sure every pitcher does.
"A lot of times, you want to get quick innings to get deeper into games, but if I get ahead of guys, I'm trying to put them away and get a couple of swings-and-misses here and there."
Granier features a four-pitch arsenal and points to his fastball as his best pitch.
"I like to get ahead with the fastball, then throw sliders to righties and curveballs to lefties," Granier said.
So far that approach has worked well for Granier, who has been effective against both right-handed hitters (.230 BAA) and left-handed hitters (.192 BAA), striking out each side exactly 40 times. He currently leads the California League in ERA with a 2.49 mark, and he has allowed just three homeruns and 51 hits in 65 innings.
Granier's success is a carryover from his first year-and-a-half in professional baseball. After being selected in the 32nd round in 2011, Granier was sent to the Arizona Rookie League, where he quickly proved that he was too good for rookie-level competition. In 23 innings, he allowed only 12 hits and he struck-out 35. Granier finished that year with short-season Vermont, striking out 34 in 28.1 innings. In total, Granier had a 1.75 ERA and 69 strike-outs in 51 innings in 2011.
Last season, Granier starred for Low-A Burlington, posting a 3.21 ERA in 162.2 innings pitched. Granier finished second behind Straily in strike-outs amongst A's minor leaguers and he was a Midwest League mid-season All-Star.
Granier enjoyed his one season in the Midwest League.
"It was fun. You always expect to do good," Granier said. "I had a pretty good season by anyone's standards, and came out of it with a lot of strike-outs and I went deep into games. I couldn't have really asked for much more."
Although the Midwest League is a pitcher's league, Granier has actually improved since making the jump to the hitter-friendly California League this season. His K-rates and groundball rates are up, while his homer rate is down. Granier says that the difference between the two leagues isn't that pronounced.
"Mainly the wind [is the difference between the two leagues]," Granier said. "If you leave the ball up, it goes out a lot easier than in the Midwest League.
"I remember competing against a lot of these guys in the Midwest League last year, so just like a pitcher, a hitter doesn't really change-up his approach from year-to-year. You are who you are, so you just do what you do. It's working out pretty well so far."
One area Granier has struggled recently is with his walks. His BB/9 is currently 4.57, up from 2.93. Limiting his walks has been an area of focus for Granier, who is still trying to pinpoint the reason for his occasional lack of command.
"It's a little bit of [nibbling on the corners and trying to get hitters to chase but they don't]," Granier said. "Sometimes I get ahead of a batter and get little too amped up and I give a little bit, or sometimes I just walk them on four straight pitches. I don't know, I guess I lose focus for a batter or something. I don't know yet [what the cause is]. Hopefully I'll know soon."
Granier has also been working on his change-up, which he was able to utilize extensively in his last start.
"The A's are a pitcher-oriented major league team, so they stress pitching a lot. Fastball command and a lot of change-ups," Granier said. "Change-up is a big pitch in this organization. It's not really my best pitch, but I have been working on it a lot. I threw the most change-ups I have thrown all season [on Tuesday night], and it helped me out quite a bit.
"That's what I have been working on most, the change-up. I haven't really messed with much else. I have been trying new grips to try to find one that is comfortable and will make the pitch better."
Although Granier's fastball will never be confused with Justin Verlander's, Granier does maintain his low-90s velocity deep into games. With two swing-and-miss breaking pitches and a developing change-up, Granier has the arsenal to remain a starting pitcher long-term.
Despite being a relative unknown before draft day in 2011, Granier has quickly developed into one of the A's top starting pitching prospects. Granier uses the motivation of being a low-round pick to his advantage.
"Once I signed it, I was alright, but once you get here, and you see everybody who was drafted before you and you see all of this stuff, you don't really know what's the difference between you and the next guy," Granier said. "It's a little bit of a chip on your shoulder and will make you work a little harder, but overall, I was just happy to get drafted period."