Editor's Note: This award is not intended to be a prospect ranking. The award is purely to honor the player who had the best 2011 season among the Oakland A's minor league pitchers.
Runner-Up: Graham Godfrey
We polled the A's fans on our OaklandClubhouse.com messageboard to get their pick for the top A's minor league pitcher for the 2011 season. Their pick? Right-hander A.J. Griffin, who nosed out right-hander Graham Godfrey by a narrow margin.
Griffin was the A's 13th-round pick in 2010 after an accomplished career at the University of San Diego. The 6'5'' right-hander debuted professionally as a closer with the short-season Vancouver Canadians in 2010 and earned post-season All-Star honors by saving 15 games and posting a 2.95 ERA in 21.1 innings for the C's.
Griffin was only pitching out of the bullpen last season to keep his innings total down after a heavy college workload, and the A's didn't hesitate to move him into the starting rotation in 2011. Griffin began the year with Low-A Burlington, but after eight starts it was apparent he was too good for the Midwest League. He went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and had a 46:5 K:BB ratio.
Griffin was asked to make the jump to the hitter-friendly California League and he did so with little trouble. In his first five starts with the Ports, he posted a 2.93 ERA and a 32:^ K:BB ratio in 30.2 innings.
In early June, Griffin was asked to make a spot start for Triple-A Sacramento. He looked every bit the part of a Triple-A pitcher in the outing versus Tacoma, striking out eight in six innings. He allowed three runs (two earned), but was hung with the loss when the River Cats were unable to mount much of an offense versus Tacoma righty Blake Beaven.
Griffin spent all of July with Double-A Midland. He struggled with the longball, in particular, with the Rockhounds, allowing six homers in 32 innings. After a rough outing during which he allowed eight runs in three innings, Griffin was sent back to Stockton for the month of August and the playoffs. He had a 6.47 ERA for the 'Hounds.
With Stockton, Griffin helped anchor a staff that propelled the Ports to the California League post-season. After returning to Stockton, he struck-out 46 over 36 regular season innings and walked only seven. Then during the playoffs, Griffin went 2-0 with a 28:2 K:BB ratio in 21 innings spread over three starts.
All told, Griffin went 11-7 with a 3.47 ERA in 160.2 innings. He tied with Robert Gilliam for the organizational lead in strike-outs with 156 and Griffin walked only 32 while holding opposing batters to a .238 average. He is expected to start next season with Double-A Midland and could see significant time with Triple-A Sacramento by the end of the year.
OaklandClubhouse.com's Choice: Graham Godfrey, Sacramento River Cats and Oakland A's
Runner-Up: A.J. Griffin
Much like the fans on our messageboard, we had a difficult time choosing between Godfrey and Griffin for this award. Ultimately, we sided with Godfrey because of his consistent success throughout the season and for the dramatic improvement that he made over his 2010 campaign.
Much like our position player award-winner Jermaine Mitchell, Godfrey was once a highly regarded prospect in the A's system, but he had seen his status as a prospect wane with a poor 2010 season.
At the start of the year, it looked as though Godfrey was going to be a forgotten man in the A's system. Despite the fact that he had spent the majority of the 2010 season in Triple-A and had been a Texas League post-season All-Star in 2009, Godfrey was sent to Double-A to begin the 2011 campaign. He was the 'Hounds Opening Day starter and tossed four innings in his 2011 debut, allowing two unearned runs and striking out six.
That would wind-up being the only start Godfrey would make for Midland in 2011. Tyson Ross was recalled to Oakland during the first weekend of the regular season and Godfrey was tabbed to take Ross's place in the River Cats' rotation. He would settle in quickly as the team's ace.
In 20 appearances for Sacramento, Godfrey posted a 2.59 ERA. He led all A's minor leaguers with 14 wins and was the losing pitcher in only three games. He also held opposing batters to a .227 average and had a nearly 3:1 K:BB ratio (89 strike-outs to 30 walks in 107.1 innings).
That good work with Sacramento was rewarded by the A's. Godfrey was the mid-season choice for Oakland to fill an open spot in the A's starting rotation. He had a rough major league debut versus the White Sox, but recovered in a big way in his second outing, out-dueling Giants' ace Tim Lincecum in front of a full house at the Oakland Coliseum. His defense betrayed him in his next outing versus the Mets and he was sent back to Triple-A after allowing three runs in four innings versus Boston. Godfrey would return to the A's in September and he made one appearance in long relief, shutting out the Texas Rangers for four innings, striking out three and walked one.
Godfrey is projected to enter the 2012 season in a much different position than he did the 2011 campaign. Now a member of the A's 40-man roster, he will be invited to big league spring training for the first time and will have an opportunity to compete for a spot in the back-end of the A's rotation or in the bullpen. And if he doesn't make the team out of spring training, he figures to be one of Oakland's top options to join the team when injuries strike.