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The Legend That Never Was

Three years, five months, and thirteen days ago, the Royals drafted a high school pitching phenom. The kid had it all: A big frame. A mid-90s fastball that had been clocked as high as 100. An incredibly wicked slider. Joe Posnanski's adoration. But here we are three years later, the kid never advanced, and it appears that Allard Baird's finally seen enough. The Colt Griffin Experiment came to an end on Thursday when the Royals added four players to their 40-man roster, protecting those players from the Rule 5 draft next month. Griffin's name wasn't on that list.

It isn't like we should be surprised this happened, though. A big part of The Ongoing Education of Allard Baird is his improved focus on performance scouting, and Griffin, for all his physical gifts, just never gave the Royals any reason to believe. Even days after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2001, a few writers thought there was more sizzle there than steak (he had problems throwing strikes to high school hitters too), and his "production" proved those people right.

As a result, the Royals are rightfully making Griffin available to any team that wants him via the Rule 5 draft, although I can't imagine any club being able to keep a pitcher who's not even close to being ready on their 25-man roster for all of 2005. It isn't out of the realm of possibility, however, that a club not expected to contend would pick him up and make a trade for his full rights, giving them the option of sending Griffin to the minor leagues. He might be worth it too, because for a guy who's walked 6.71 batters per nine innings of work, Griffin's done a really good job of limiting his hits allowed (8.02 per nine) and a very good job of limiting his home runs allowed (0.31 per nine).

In other words, for all his lack of success, Colt still isn't a normal pitcher. A frustrating one, yes, but definitely not a normal one. He's one of those guys who fans talk about all the time, saying, "If he could just find his control, he'd be unstoppable." They'd be right, too, because Griffin's fastball sinks like a brick in a pond, and his slider tilts so much, he can't control it (ala Dan Reichert).

There is a measure of risk for Baird by leaving Griffin unprotected, but it's a risk he needed to and did take. The likeliest scenario is that he continues to flame out and spiral into oblivion, and small-market baseball teams don't have any business protecting players like him. But what about the players the Royals did choose to place on the roster?

By now, every Royals fan knows who Mark Teahen is, although 30 years from now, those same Royals fans probably won't remember that Chris Truby kept the seat warm for him at the start of the 2005 season. Adding him to the roster was a no-brainer, especially after he's continued to demolish Arizona Fall League pitching (.390/.455/.552) and was awarded the first annual Dernell Stenson AFL Sportsmanship Award. The 'hen's going to be a good ballplayer, and seems to be a classy individual too. That's a rare combination in today's sports world.

The Royals also added Justin Huber to the roster -- another no-brainer -- because A) He's going to hit and B) He's going to hit. Huber really burst onto the scene in 2004 before tearing his ACL the day before the Royals stole him from New York, hitting .271/.414/.487 in 236 at-bats at Double-A. I'm especially impressed by the 46 walks he drew, which set his career high in BB/AB. Huber probably isn't going to catch again because of the knee injury, but he'll make a fine corner outfielder, first baseman, or designated hitter.

Devon Lowery was also a part of the Royals' disastrous 2001 draft, but he's exceeded expectations as a 15th-round choice. Last season, he kept his strikeout-to-walk ratio above two-to-one, but I'd like to see his strikeout rate continue to improve. He has a future, but whether that future is as a starter or a reliever remains to be seen. Lowery's just 21 years old, so there's plenty of time for him.

Ambiorix Burgos is the most intriguing player the Royals chose to protect. He's intriguing for the same reason Griffin's going to intrigue other clubs (a high-octane fastball and plus-breaking stuff), but unlike Griffin, Burgos has actually performed. His strikeout rate was an unbelievable 11.58 in 2004, and while his command needs a lot of work, he's still on track to be a very good major league pitcher. After all, control problems aren't unusual for 20-year-olds with blazing fastballs. If Burgos can cut his walk rate in half over the next two seasons, he'll be mentioned as one of the ten best pitching prospects in baseball. He's probably the only pitcher the Royals have in the minor leagues who has the potential to be a Johan Santana kind of great.

For those of you who I don't chat with on a regular basis, have a great weekend. As usual, I'll be back on Monday with more blather about 2005's Irrelevant Baseball Team, my beloved Royals. Voices from the Basement will probably make its return in the near future as well, as Daniel's emerged from wherever he was hiding. Happy Hot Stove League!
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