Justin Grimm: His Pitch Mix, His Role, and Flying Under the Radar in 2014

justin grimmJustin Grimm went through both the highs and lows of being a big leaguer in 2013. The disappointment of not making the Texas Rangers major league roster out of spring training didn’t last long, as Grimm was called up to fill in for injured starter Matt Harrison on April 11th. As even Grimm admits, the timing may not have been the best for him, but the Rangers were battling numerous injuries in the rotation and Grimm was forced into duty.

“When I first came up, I may not have been truly ready, but I was able to compete at that level,” Grimm said. “I think I just proved that I can go up there and get outs when needed. [I was] probably rushed a little bit, but honestly I feel ready now, more than I ever have been. My confidence is high.”

While he may feel more prepared for the bigs now, Grimm’s confidence was likely soaring after his first month in the Rangers rotation. Grimm ended April with a five-hit, seven inning shutout of the Twins, giving him a 1.59 ERA in 17 innings for the month. His strong performance earned him AL Rookie of the Month honors for April, and Grimm seemed on his way to becoming another impressive talent developed by the Rangers system.

However, in early May, the Rangers came to Grimm and asked him to work on a cutter to add to his already solid three-pitch arsenal (fastball, change-up, curveball).

“I think it was the right call on needing that pitch, but personally, it was the wrong timing,” Grimm said. “It’s something you learn in the offseason, not during the middle of the season. You just got Rookie of the Month and all of a sudden they tell you need a new pitch. Sometimes you gotta back up to make yourself better and that was the case.”

Grimm, whom the Rangers moved to the Cubs last July as part of the Matt Garza trade, admitted it probably wasn’t best for his development to work on another pitch while facing major league hitters. But that’s the situation he was presented with, and he accepted the challenge. The cutter, which ended up turning into a slider, wasn’t nearly as effective in games as Grimm and the Rangers coaching staff had hoped.

“I threw it in the bullpen and yeah, it was nasty in the bullpen,” Grimm admitted. “But, obviously, it’s a lot different when you get out there in the game. And if you don’t have confidence in [the pitch], it affects everything else. I think that’s what helped lead to my inconsistencies, but you learn. That’s the main thing, I know what works for me and I think I know what’s going to keep me there and solidify a major league role this year.”

Not only did Grimm say he has finally developed confidence in his slider, but he added that his confidence in himself is at an all-time high. Grimm said he’s gone into this offseason with more purpose than ever before. In the past, when he lifted and threw during the winter, Grimm said it was just to stay in shape and keep his arm warm. This time it was different, as Grimm kept repeating that he went into each lift and throwing session with a ‘purpose’. A purpose of solidifying himself as a major league player.

“I’m going into spring training as confident as I’ve ever been,” Grimm claimed. “I’m ready to go in and compete – I’ve always been a competitor – but I’m ready to compete more now than ever. Going in with high confidence, just ready to go at people and show them what I got.”

With the addition of free agent Jason Hammel, the Cubs rotation looks pretty set to open the season, with Hammel and Jake Arrieta likely fitting in behind Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. Of course, things can change quickly, with injuries, trades or any variety of spring training surprises throwing a wrench in the best laid plans.

Grimm said the Cubs told him to come into camp prepared to start, but he’s ready for anything.

“If they feel that I’m ready to stick at the big league and maybe a move to the bullpen will suffice for now, I told them I’d go either way,” Grimm said. “I think that’s one good thing about me, I can do both roles. I don’t mind doing that to be honest with you.”

Grimm’s stuff appears to play up when he’s working out of the bullpen. According to Brooks Baseball, Grimm’s fastball averaged 91.77 mph in all of 2013, but in his nine September innings, when he was pitching exclusively out of the bullpen for the Cubs, it ticked up to an average of 93.67 (a trend that bore out during Grimm’s limited time up with the Rangers in 2012 as well).

The Cubs’ focus this offseason has been on improving a struggling bullpen, and, with the additions of names like Wesley Wright and Jose Veras (as well as some interesting non-roster invites) to go along with impressive performances from Blake Parker and Hector Rondon in 2013, Grimm is even going overlooked as a possible pen piece.

“I’d like to go in [under the radar], nobody’s looking at me. I’d like to go in there and prove what I got,” Grimm said. “If [starting] doesn’t work out and they feel they’ve got it covered, there’s other spots to be won. For me, it’s just staying up [in the big leagues] all year. Whether it’s relieving, starting, closing, whatever it may be, just help get myself solidified in the big leagues.”

One never wants to place the “bullpen” label on a pitching prospect too early, and, at 25, it’d be a mistake to do that to Grimm at this point. Grimm certainly could be a strong contributor to the Cubs’ 2014 club out of the bullpen, and he’s made it clear that his goal for the season is to prove he belongs at the big league level permanently. However, for an organization that’s lacking in major league-ready, young, starting pitchers, it would be wise for the Cubs to not eliminate Grimm from their future rotation plans.

And if Grimm does happen to snag one of the final spots in the bullpen, he has no intention of giving up his hopes of someday being a starter.

“No, 100% not,” Grimm adamantly proclaimed when asked if pitching all of 2014 in the pen meant giving up starting. “The biggest thing for a starter is having more pitches you can throw for strikes. I think I can throw strikes with all four of my pitches. It’s just having conviction with those pitches when you throw them.”

Using a young prospect who profiles as a future starter out of the bullpen early in their career is certainly an effective method for preparing them for starter’s innings in the bigs – the Cardinals seem to be experts at doing so. The strategy makes the most sense when the prospect is being called up later in the season and can contribute to the major league club while also not being overworked after having logged starter innings in the minors.

However, Grimm’s case isn’t as simple. He already has over 100 innings in the big leagues (meaning mere exposure to facing big league hitting isn’t as pressing of an issue, especially if time in the minors can help him refine his slider), and logged 146 innings between both the majors and minors last season. It’s time for Grimm to try and increase his workload and get to the 180 inning mark, something that may not be possible at Wrigley. While that may not be the way Grimm hopes things plays out, it could be what makes the most sense for the Cubs, and what’s best for Grimm’s future.

In the end, Grimm’s future is tough to predict. His April gives hope that he could be a quality part of a starting rotation. His subsequent struggles are obviously of concern, but how much of it was truly related to the fact he was working on a new pitch while facing major league hitters? If it turns out that Grimm’s problems stemmed from an underdeveloped slider that he believes is now MLB-ready, then perhaps he could be a diamond in the rough for the Cubs.

The Garza trade netted the Cubs four players who could all impact the major league roster in the next two years, and Grimm has become an oft-overlooked piece of that move. If things go as he hopes, that won’t be the case come mid-summer.

Sahadev Sharma is, among other things, a contributor at Bleacher Nation. Follow him on Twitter @sahadevsharma.

70 responses to “Justin Grimm: His Pitch Mix, His Role, and Flying Under the Radar in 2014”

  1. Fishin Phil

    Sounds to me like Justin has a severe case of Belly Fire!

    Nice article.

  2. willis

    Great piece. I am in favor of giving him every chance to stick as a starter, and that would mean beginning the year in Iowa to log innings and work on everything. If he ends up part of the pen from the jump, I’m ok with it, but I hate putting him in a pen on a bad team when he could be continuiing the development as a starter elsewhere. It may not be what he wants, but I think it makes the most sense.

  3. MightyBear

    Great piece as always by the old Illini anchor man. Pitching in the pen at first will work. I believe it depends on the pitcher. I remember when the Astros brought up Oswalt and we went to a game and sat close to the bullpen. I remember watching him warm up and asking by buddy and the people around us “Who is this kid?”. They brought him in out of the pen and he mowed down three hitters like a hot knife through butter. I knew then he was going to be a helluva pitcher. About two months later they moved him into the rotation and he was solid for the next 10 years.

    1. MightyBear

      my instead of by

  4. 70's Cub

    This year Cub FO needs to get an equal or slightly better return for Shark. Four young potential MLB’s for three month’s of Garza’s services plus two players making this years staff for 1/2 year Feldman.

    1. Chad

      If the cubs take an equal haul for Shark that they did for Garza right now would be a bit silly as they should be able to get more at the deadline. You’re right, just think about what they got for Garza after 12 starts (and a big injury) for only 2 months use. I would think that a healthy Shark (assuming he pitches pretty well in the first half) would bring a better return than that, especially since you would get a year and 2 months. If they trade him now, they better get a lot more (not in quantity), but upper end quality than they got for Garza.

      1. ssckelley

        Tough to compare what the Cubs will get for Shark by using what the Cubs got for Garza. They could get more or even get less, it all depends on who is all involved in the bidding and how big of a demand there is. A big reason why the Cubs got such a big haul out of Garza is because the A’s were involved. The Cubs ended up with a Top 50 pitching prospect out of Garza, I think that is a good starting point for the Cubs asking price on Shark.

        If I am the Cubs I would be in no hurry to trade Shark. I remain hopeful the Cubs can still extend him. I think there is more value in keeping him than trading him for more prospects.

        1. Chad

          I agree with you completely, but if the cubs end up taking less for Shark than Garza then they messed up, or he got hurt. There will be plenty of teams scrambling in July. There always is.

          1. ssckelley

            I just think the Garza deal was a little over the top. It has potential to be one of the most lop sided deals the Cubs have been the beneficiary of in quite some time. The funny thing is the Cubs would have gotten much less for Garza had he not gotten hurt the previous year, the deal would have been headlined with Olt.

  5. Edwin

    I’d think a slider might work better for Grimm than a Cutter. His curve seemed to do ok last season, it just seems like he needs one more pitch to mix in to keep batters off the fastball/curveball combo. His changeup seemed to be a pretty bad pitch for him last season. He doesn’t seem to get many whiffs from it. Maybe he should try throwing it harder to get more groundballs. I think if he can get more groundballs from his changeup and get a slider that keeps hitters off his curveball and generates a few more K’s from RHB, he could turn into a decent 4th starter.

  6. Oregon Cubs Fan

    Sixth starter on a team isn’t the worst thing. On most major league rosters that nets 10-15 starts during the year. Keep him in Iowa if he doesn’t crack the rotation out of AZ. We have plenty of arms in the bullpen.

  7. Fastball

    This guy is starting to smell a lot like a right handed Travis Wood. It could very well be that he comes along the same way Travis did. He appears to be a pitcher and not a thrower. The big unknowns in the rotation are Hamels and Arietta. I am not penciling either of those into the rotation until they earn the right to be there this ST. Knowing the Cubs propensity for injuries he will probably get all the innings he has been dreaming about.

  8. NorthSideIrish

    TomLoxas ‏@TomLoxas 3m
    Sounds like Mariners are sniffing around possibility of Shark/Russell pairing. Would take a lot. Have more later.

    M’s won’t include Walker (don’t blame them) so it would probably be multiple lesser pieces…

    1. CubFan Paul

      It’ll be no deal without Walker

      1. Jon

        Odds are, Walker could come up today(or April) and be just as good if not better than Shark.

        1. CubFan Paul

          I bet the M’s would prefer to pay Shark $5M instead of the limited innings they’d give to Walker.

          1. bbmoney

            Maybe…but they’d probably prefer to pay Walker 1.7M over the next three years and arbitration prices for the 3 after that than pay Shark ~13M the next two and either lose him or pay him 17M per year plus (assuming he pitches well the next two years).

            1. CubFan Paul

              “Maybe…but they’d probably prefer to pay Walker 1.7M”

              Doubt it or we wouldn’t be here talking about it

              1. Kyle

                I’m trying to think of a comparison to Walker for Samardzija.

                Baez for Heyward? Although Heyward is better than Samardzija.

                1. Jon

                  Baez for Allen Craig.

                  1. YourResidentJag

                    ? Baez then for Syndergaard….if you’re gonna propose that.

          2. Jon

            I think I would rather keep one of the three best pitching prospects in baseball(Walker), and sign Ulbado Jimenze or Santana as a stop gap.

            Not even that FO is dumb enough to include Walker in a deal for Shark. They won’t even do it for Price.

            1. CubFan Paul

              “I think I would rather keep one of the three best pitching..”

              Of course YOU would. Great. I’m talking about the M’s

              “is dumb enough to include Walker in a deal for Shark. They won’t even do it for Price”

              Yet.

      2. Ricky

        Paul I wouldn’t go as far to say that there is no deal without Walker. He is a top 5 pitching prospect in all of baseball with some big leagues innings under his belt. Taking into consideration the money involved, and Walker looks even better, with more control.

        If a deal were to happen, and this is a complete guess, it would include Paxton as one of the main pieces coming back.

        1. Ricky

          But then again, Walker coming back would be heavenly!

          1. CubFan Paul

            “I wouldn’t go as far to say that there is no deal without Walker”

            Well, you’re in the minority. Theo&Co don’t give discounts for their valuable assets (see the Garza deal & non-Schierholtz deal)

            1. Ricky

              I dont think I really am in the minority with it, as the same guy who reported that they are talking also reported that the Mariners will not include Walker. So while it would be an ideal scenario for him to be included, the M’s have seemingly made it pretty clear that they won’t include him.

              With that being said, if they are still talking about a potential deal, the Cubs are well aware that Walker isn’t coming back to them, so exploring what other prospects would make sense for them. And yes, you’re right, Theo won’t give a discount, but on that same note, neither with the M’s.

              1. CubFan Paul

                “the M’s have seemingly made it pretty clear that they won’t include him”

                Negotiating 101. Welcome to Major League Baseball.

    2. woody

      I can’t quite remember the tweet from Loxas during the Tanaka deliberations. Wasn’t he one of the guys that said the Cubs had made a huge offer? Don’t know how credible he is.

      1. mdavis

        what constitutes a huge offer to you? 120 million is a pretty big offer…

    3. Jason P

      That’ll be tough for them to put together a good enough package w/o Walker. Their second best prospect seems to be a rookie ball third basemen, so probably not at the top of the Cubs interest list. After that, Paxton is borderline top-75.

      Basically an Alcantara level prospect and a bunch of Villanuevas and Ramirez’. That’s not exactly an ideal return for Samardzija.

      1. CubFan Paul

        Exactly.

      2. twinkletoez

        Also I believe Peterson was drafted last season and can’t be included in a trade yet, correct?

      3. Lou Brown

        Yeah, I am just not seeing why our FO would do any trade at this point that did not include Walker. Their secondary prospects aren’t that interesting, and there is not much incentive to trade him before the deadline. I am curious because they said Smardj and Russell. Seattle seems to be in win now mode, and they get two seasons. Who blinks at Walker for both of them straight up, or maybe with a lotto ticket A baller?

    4. mdavis

      only other pieces they’d have is…? Hultzen (injured) Paxton (4/5 type) and Zunino (think they were saying the’d include him in a deal for pitching…)

      1. Noah_I

        Unless the Mariners included Nick Franklin as the centerpiece along with something like Paxton and a lesser prospect.

    5. ssckelley

      James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, and Tyler Marlette would make a nice package for Shark.

      1. Noah_I

        Hultzen has a shoulder injury and won’t pitch until 2015. If it was TJS, that’s one thing. But I wouldn’t take a guy with a shoulder injury as anything more than a throw in. You just have no idea what his stuff is going to be like when he returns.

      2. mdavis

        does anyone know what the deal is with hultzen? hultzen, paxton, zunino, franklin? too much? good ball park packagE?

        1. mdavis

          ahh shoulder. bummer. then im not sure i see a pure fit.

        2. Noah_I

          If Hultzen was healthy, the Cubs would not have been able to get Hultzen for Samardzija straight up. Hultzen was dominating the PCL before he injured his shoulder, and probably would have spent half of 2013 in the Majors.

          Zunino and Franklin are too much to Samardzija, and I’m curious if the Mariners would even include Zunino at all. That would be REALLY selling low on Zunino, where they should be seeing if he can perform better this season.

          1. mdavis

            well i almost think that’s what you have to do nowadays in this type of market. teams are holding onto their top prospects unless thers some type of issue. and we’re talking shark and russell. not that russell tips the scale all that much, but never know. if the Mariners really are “all in” then they might part with some high talent not named Walker.

  9. Jason P

    Not bad for a “throw in” in the Garza deal.

  10. Kyle

    I don’t know how the heck we’re going to pick and choose in the pitching staff. There’s got to be 20 guys who I’d say “yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing what he could do in the majors.”

    1. Brett

      It’s going to have to come down to who’s got options, and required 40-man jostling. I haven’t gone through yet to parse everyone’s situation, but I have some concerns that the Cubs will lose a couple intriguing (albeit admittedly low ceiling) arms.

      1. Kyle

        The only guys with restrictions, I believe, are that Cabrera is out of options (must stay on 25-man) and Rondon has been outrighted before (if we try to waive him off the 40-man, he gets the option of electing free agency). And I’d assume some of the NRIs have opt-outs by certain dates.

        The rotation seems set in stone (barring injuries): Samardzija, Wood, Jackson, Arrieta, Hammel

        The locks in the pen would seem to be: Veras, Wright, Strop, Villanueva

        And near-locks in the pen: Parker, Russell

        So unless you move out one of the near-locks or locks, that leaves you with just one spot (maybe zero if you wanted to go with an 11-man staff). And that’s before we assign MacDonald, Rondon, Rosscup, Rusin, Raley, Grimm, Ramirez, Rivero, Vizcaino, Cabrera, and probably six or seven more guys.

        1. willis

          I think if they want to hold onto Cabrera and he shows well in ST, he gets the final bullpen spot as to not have to deal with another team claiming him. But he’s been very inconsistent at different levels so we’ll just have to see how that plays out. I agree with your other 6 bullpen arms to start the year.

  11. YourResidentJag

    Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca hears from a source that Santana did indeed move closer to striking a deal this weekend. However, the Blue Jays “aren’t the ones driving the sudden turn in his market,” according to Davidi.

  12. Kyle

    Have we talked about Bonafacio being put on irrevocable waivers?

    I know $3.5m isn’t nothing, but I waaaaaant. We are an infielder short.

    1. Jon

      1) Doesn’t make a contender 2014
      2) Hasn’t played for the Red Sox or Padres.

      I don’t see the fit.

      1. DarthHater

        giphy.gif

      2. baldtaxguy

        Jumped the shark.

    2. Noah_I

      I think it depends on what the Cubs’ plans with Olt are, which we just don’t know. If the Cubs’ plan is to start Olt at 3B unless his eyeballs are falling out of the sockets, then I’d just as well have Valbuena and Barney platooning at 2B. But if Valbuena and Murphy are going to be platooning at 3B, I’d be more than happy to see Bonifacio get the shot at 2B. If he can get the OBP back up to .330 or so, he could be a weapon on the basepaths that the Cubs don’t otherwise have, and he has more upside as a flip candidate later than Barney.

      1. Eternal Pessimist

        “weapon on the basepaths that the Cubs don’t otherwise have”

        …if only we could find a way to get him – or anyone else- on the base paths.

    3. Brett

      The Cubs may be an infielder short, but I’m not sure Bonifacio is the guy they’re short.

      1. Kyle

        He’s the guy who is there right now for a one-year, cash-only commitment.

        #want

        1. Brett

          Hmm. When you put it that way, I hate it less.

          1. Kyle

            Wow did I ever waste my one “convince Brett of something” for the week.

            1. DarthHater

              I once convinced Brett of something — that I wasn’t banhammer-worthy –and the rest of you have been paying the price ever since.

              1. Eternal Pessimist

                I wouldn’t get too excited about convincing Brett on a low risk, low reward acquisition!

            2. Brett

              I had to throw you a bone after so many failed attempts today. :)

              (It even generated a post!)

      2. Noah_I

        And whether the Cubs are an infielder short or not depends a lot on where they plan on playing Mike Olt to start the season. I have a feeling the Cubs are either really intent to start him in the Majors, to the point where he’d have to show he’s terrible or not healthy, or intent on not starting him in the Majors, to the point he’d need to look like Adrian Beltre to force his way on the team. I just don’t feel like there’s going to be much of an in between with him.

        If Olt is on the team, then you have your six infielders: Rizzo, Castro, Olt, Barney, Valbuena and Murphy.

        1. Kyle

          Given that Mike Olt was last seen concussed and awful, I feel content for the moment continuing to assume we are an infielder short.

          1. Noah_I

            I agree, that we are likely to end up that way. But whether there’s a roster spot available is largely up to how the Cubs decide to handle Olt to start the season.

            I’d put it this way: there is no Cub I will be rooting for to prove me wrong more than Mike Olt.

  13. MattM

    That always confused me about the Garza trade. Grimm was hardly ever mentioned. He has AT LEAST as much chance of putting it together and being awesome as Olt does. I think he might have a better chance actually. With that pitch mix and a fastball that averages 91 (which is great) he has good enough stuff to be a quality 3rd starter in most rotations.

    The caveat is that he has to put it together. The Rangers will regret that move I think. it’s just like Rizzo. You know he will be awesome, but he was rushed then sucked and then they just give up on him. That was wierd in my opinion….

  14. Cubs 2014 Season Preview: The Starting Rotation, Part 2 | The Billy Goat: A Chicago Cubs Blog

    […] Sahadev Sharma wrote a piece over at BleacherNation about Grimm earlier this week, and it sounds like he’s confident and believes he’s ready to be a starter in the major leagues.  He adds that the Cubs told him to come to camp ready to start. […]

  15. Spring Training Miscellany: Padres 7, Cubs 1 – March 24, 2014 | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    […] is an interesting story, because we know he’s been a starter most of his career, and we know he’s been working on his pitch mix lately (maybe even this Spring, too). I can think of reasons why his results this Spring might be down […]

  16. Deck Chairs: The Bullpen | Cubs Den

    […] the Rangers. He doesn't quite have the raw stuff that Rondon, Parker or Cabrera have however he did add a cutter to his repertoire and has improved confidence in his slider. As we learned with Travis Wood, raw stuff isn't the be-all-end-all and keeping hitters off balance […]

  17. Deck Chairs: The Bullpen – ChicagoNow (blog) | Best Furniture Mart

    […] He doesn’t quite have the raw stuff that Rondon, Parker or Cabrera have however he did add a cutter to his repertoire and has improved confidence in his slider. As we learned with Travis Wood, raw stuff isn’t the be-all-end-all and keeping hitters off […]

  18. Your Daily PITCHfix: Cubs v. Pirates 4.10.14 | Cubs Den

    […] his way into that 7th inning role behind Veras and Strop. The fastball is sitting at 95 MPH and that slider he worked on with the Rangers is big league material […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.