During his three-year career at the University of Georgia, right-hander Justin Grimm posted a 5.84 earned-run average with 204 hits allowed in 186.1 innings. But as the Texas Rangers' fifth-round pick last summer, he still commanded supplemental first-round money ($825,000 bonus) because of his powerful arm.
Grimm showed plus velocity and a potential above-average breaking ball during his time with the Bulldogs, and many scouts believed the mechanical issues that led to his struggles would be correctable down the line.
Since he joined the Rangers organization, Grimm has pitched in fall instructional league and spring training. And his raw talent has been on display.
The 22-year-old appeared in a Double-A game against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City) on March 25. He went 3.2 innings, yielding three runs on four hits, walking one and striking out four.
Grimm threw his fastball at 92-94 mph during the 65-pitch outing, bumping up to 95 and 96 at times. He was on top of his game in a perfect first inning, commanding a 92-95 mph heater down in the zone and getting two quick groundouts. Grimm finished the frame by fanning right-handed hitting Royals prospect Wil Myers with three consecutive sliders (81 called, 81 swinging, 83 swinging).
While Grimm calls his breaking ball a slider, it's more of a hard slurve. As he explains in the below interview, he threw both a true curve and a slider in college, and he has combined the two into an easier-to-command pitch. With sharp two-plane break, the pitch flashes plus potential. He threw it at 78-83 mph, tossing 12 of 15 for strikes during the outing.
If Grimm wants to remain a starting pitcher, he'll likely have to develop his little-used changeup into a usable pitch. The change, which he threw very sparingly (if at all) in college, is clearly his third offering and a work in progress. At 85-86 mph, the pitch was a bit firm against the Naturals, and he struggled to command it, throwing just two of seven for strikes.
Grimm certainly turned a few heads with his dominant first-inning performance, but his fastball began to drift up in the zone in the second frame, when he yielded a pair of extra-base hits. He locked things down again in the third inning, when he got a groundout to second sandwiched between a pair of punchouts (92 fastball, swinging; 83 slider, swinging).
Things unraveled a bit in the fourth, as he allowed three of four runners (around a double play ball) to reach base. Grimm believes he was overthrowing late in the outing––one of his primary issues in his college days.
When Grimm overthrows, the head-jerk in his delivery becomes more pronounced and he throws himself off-line. He began pulling off toward first base and missing away to right-handers consistently in the fourth, when he yielded a home run, hung a slider to Myers for a single, and walked a hitter on five pitches.
With his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame and plus fastball, Grimm figures to be developed as a starting pitcher for the time being. If he's unable to lock down his command and refine the changeup, he could eventually find a home in the bullpen, where his power two-pitch mix gives him late-inning potential. Either way, the former Georgia Bulldog has a promising arm, and he may not be in the minors' lower levels for long.
Jason Cole: You went 3.2 innings in the Double-A game a couple days ago. How'd you feel about the outing? Was it the first time you've gone that deep into a game this spring?
Justin Grimm: Yeah, it was. I thought it was alright. The first three innings, I was happy with. I dealt pretty good. That last inning, though, I was kind of disappointed just because I felt like I was trying to do too much. That's only hurting myself when I try to do that.
Cole: You mixed in some righty-righty changeups, didn't you?
Grimm: Yeah, I'm just trying to get that pitch in there. I'm definitely going to need it––especially once I get to that level. I've still got to get over that fear a little bit––throwing it in there. I think I might have thrown one or two for a strike, but I just have to really concentrate on putting it in there for a strike instead of in the dirt all the time.
Cole: And you didn't throw many changeups in college, right?
Grimm: No, I actually threw two different breaking balls and then my fastball in college. It was something that I really picked up over the offseason. It has gotten a lot better and I'm happy with it now. I've just got to put it in the zone.
Cole: Did you change the grip from what you toyed with in college?
Grimm: I did. I just couldn't really command it very well with a circle change––your ordinary circle change grip. Basically I throw like a three-finger fastball and kind of shove the thumb into the side of it to get a little movement.
Cole: I noticed your breaking ball was anywhere between like 77 to 83 in the game. Was it the same breaking pitch and you were just varying the speeds on it?
Grimm: Yeah, it was all the same breaking ball. I kind of, I guess, combined both of what I had into one just to get more consistent with it. I feel like I throw a lot more strikes with it.
Cole: Tell me about the fourth inning that you weren't happy with. Was it a mechanical thing that was throwing you off?
Grimm: I think it was just me going out there––maybe losing a little focus this early on in spring training. Maybe not. I was just trying to blow it by them and trying to do too much. I was trying to throw it way too hard instead of just letting my arm and mechanics do the work. I wasn't putting the ball in the zone.
Cole: What happens to you when you try to do too much like that?
Grimm: My command goes whack. Instead of getting ahead, I fall behind. Then you make it a lot tougher on yourself.
Cole: You faced Wil Myers in the game, who is one of the top hitting prospects in baseball, and you went at him with three straight breaking balls in the first at-bat. Do you have a plan of attack against guys like that, even in spring training?
Grimm: I don't really know much about those type of hitters yet, but I did know about him, actually. I knew he could hit a fastball, so I was just going to try and go with my offspeed at first. I saw how he handled the breaking ball, so I just stuck with that in the first at-bat. And then in the second at-bat, I kind of hung one and it didn't break as much as I'd like. So he kind of hit it up the middle on me. The next time I face him, I know how to approach him.
Cole: Are you being developed as a starting pitcher going into the season?
Grimm: I think that's the plan. They haven't really talked to me much, but I think I'm going to start out starting and we're going to see where that path takes me. But like I've said, I don't mind doing either. Whatever gets me to the big leagues faster.
Cole: Do you have any idea where you'll be starting the season?
Grimm: It's still up in the air. I've heard Hickory, and I've heard Myrtle Beach from everybody. I don't have any clue. But I'm not really going to think about it. I'm just going to work hard to make it to the next level.
Cole: When you throw bullpens out here, what are you focusing on right now?
Grimm: As of late, it's just about controlling the effort. In bullpens, I used to go full-force all the time. When you're throwing all season long, it's going to catch up with you. That's the main thing that Danny Clark and Jeff Andrews––they got with me. I really think that's going to help me feel my body and help me feel my arm path to the plate. I really started to feel it toward the end of my last bullpen session. I think that's going to be one of the main focuses on bullpens as of right now.
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