Newberg Report: Grimm ascending quickly

Newberg Report: Grimm ascending quickly

Newberg Report: Grimm ascending quickly
Part 9 in a season-long series projecting a hypothetical 25-man roster made up solely of prospects from the Texas Rangers' Minor League system.

Texas had a book on right-hander Justin Grimm well before making him the club's fifth-round pick in 2010. The organization's unwavering belief in the young hurler is paying off in 2011.

Rangers director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg, who was the organization's national crosschecker when Grimm was coming out of a Virginia high school in 2007, believed in the righty despite an arm injury that had wiped out his junior season. "He was an athletic kid with a live body and a fast arm," Fagg recalls. "The ball always jumped out of his hand."

Grimm had committed to the University of Georgia, however, and no club took a flier on him in the 2007 Draft until the Red Sox called his name in the 13th round.

After opting for college over Boston's offer to sign, Grimm had a rough freshman season at Georgia, posting a 10.91 ERA, but Fagg saw him face eight hitters in the College World Series that summer and was reminded of the upside. It wasn't a particularly clean effort -- Grimm pitched a quiet sixth inning before starting the seventh with a hit batsman, two walks, and a single, getting lifted with Fresno State third baseman Tommy Mendonca coming up, but the righty showed Fagg "electric stuff" and solidified his place on the Rangers' follow list going into 2009.

Jamey Newberg's hypothetical 25-man roster made up of Rangers prospects
No. 1 starter: Martin Perez
No. 2 starter: David Perez
No. 3 starter: Neil Ramirez
No. 4 starter: Cody Buckel
No.5 starter: Luke Jackson
Long reliever: Barret Loux
Right-on-right: Johan Yan
Left-on-left: Joseph Ortiz
7th-inn. reliever: Justin Grimm
RH setup: Roman Mendez
LH setup: Robbie Ross
Closer: Tanner Scheppers
Catcher: Jorge Alfaro
First baseman: Chris Davis
Second baseman: Luis Sardinas
Shortstop: Jurickson Profar
Third baseman: Mike Olt
Left fielder: Engel Beltre
Center fielder: Leonys Martin
Right fielder: Nomar Mazara
Designated hitter: Ronald Guzman
Backup catcher: Kellin Deglan
Utility IFer: Leury Garcia
Corner IFer: Christian Villanueva
Fourth outfielder: Jordan Akins

Grimm was better as a sophomore, posting a 4.15 ERA that led Bulldogs starters, but he seemed to regress as a junior, racking up similar inning, hit, and strikeout totals but seeing his home run and walk rates move in the wrong direction, contributing to a 5.49 ERA. But Fagg, in his first year as Rangers scouting director, was on hand with senior special assistant to the GM Don Welke for an April 2010 game pitting Grimm against one of the nation's top college prospects, LSU right-hander Anthony Ranaudo -- who, incidentally, was drafted in 2007 by Texas but chose college over going pro -- and Grimm made an impact once again.

The right-hander wasn't especially sharp, issuing four walks and hitting three batters in 5 2/3 innings (though he gave up only two runs), but he impressed Welke and Fagg with low-90s velocity and a hammer curve, even though his mechanics were out of sync -- and maybe, in a way, because of those delivery issues, which they believed could be corrected.

A long-toss session made an impression on Fagg -- "It was one of the better ones I've ever scouted" -- and so did a pre-Draft sitdown the veteran scout had with the college junior.

"He gave me the answers I needed to hear as far as his mechanics were concerned and the adjustments he would need to make," says Fagg, who visited with Grimm along with area scout Ryan Coe. "He's a driven and competitive kid, and that was evident in the meeting."

Grimm recalls the meeting as well. "They wanted to know how I felt things had gone at Georgia," he says. "I got the sense they really were trying to see what kind of person I was."

Two months later, Boston, which had drafted Grimm in 2007 but didn't sign him, chose Ranaudo in the supplemental first round and paid him well above slot to sign. And Texas chose Grimm in the fifth round and paid him well above slot to sign. Baseball America had projected Grimm to go in the first two rounds, and Texas paid him accordingly, signing him for a reported bonus of $825,000 in what was a $147,600 slot.

Grimm came to terms on the signing deadline in mid-August (on his 22nd birthday, in fact), which effectively delayed his pro debut until 2011. He did pitch in the Fall Instructional League late in 2010, opening eyes with the life in his arm and the quick strides he made reconstructing his delivery, calming things down and eliminating a head jerk.

"Justin has a very high ceiling, talent wise," says Danny Clark, the Rangers' Minor League pitching coordinator. "He quickly made the necessary mechanical adjustments to allow his delivery to repeat, and he's also a kid who has bought into the mental side. He believes in his abilities. His confidence is high."

After Grimm's strong fall showing and outstanding Spring Training, Texas assigned him to Low Class A Hickory in April, but he didn't stay long. In nine Crawdads starts, he held South Atlantic League hitters to a .247 batting average, fanning 54 in 50 1/3 innings (good for the third-highest strikeout total in the 14-team league) while issuing only 18 walks -- including only nine free passes in his final 35 frames.

Grimm had dramatically improved his control with his reformed mechanics, without sacrificing stuff. It resulted in a late-May promotion from Hickory to High Class A Myrtle Beach, as Grimm was asked to replace left-hander Robbie Erlin in the Pelicans' rotation as Erlin was promoted to Double-A Frisco. Grimm was even better out of the gate with Myrtle Beach than he had been with Hickory, scattering two runs (0.96 ERA) in 18 2/3 innings over his first three starts.

The 6-foot-3 prototype is quick to credit Clark and his Hickory and Myrtle Beach pitching coaches -- former big league right-handers Storm Davis and Brad Holman -- for taking an inconsistent college thrower and turning him into an effective pitcher and legitimate big league prospect, in extraordinarily short order.

Grimm is working at 92-96 mph with his fastball and mixes in that hard power curve, giving him two plus offerings that project to work well in a short relief role. His ability to refine a developing changeup is probably the key to his chances to get to Arlington as a starting pitcher.

But there wouldn't be anything wrong if Grimm were to develop into a bullpen right-hander capable of getting big outs in the sixth or seventh inning, the type of reliever Texas has struggled to establish this season due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Contending teams have dependable arms in that sort of role.

Even if Grimm's changeup doesn't catch up with his fastball and curve, he has demonstrated in just two months of pro ball that he has not only the stuff but also the drive and the ability to adjust that a young pitcher needs in order to get to the big leagues and stay there.

The tremendous success that Grimm has had in his rookie season is clearly a testament to his ability to take to coaching and apply it to the field, but it's also another powerful example of the extraordinary scouting and player development program that's been such a large part of returning the Rangers franchise to playoff contention.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.