When Griffin Jax finished the 2019 season, his career was at a crossroads. Despite posting a 2.90 ERA in 23 starts between Double A and Triple A, Jax found himself unprotected by the Twins in the winter’s annual Rule V Draft (the draft is an opportunity for some minor league players entering their 5th season to get a major league look with another organization). And nobody selected him.
Jax was left wondering where he fit in. A sit-down with the Twins minor league staff combined with the values instilled by his father, a 10-year NFL veteran, and his own internal drive, gave the former Air Force Academy star a new purpose. Then 2020 happened. The entire minor league season was cancelled.
The righthander returned to action in 2021 with Triple A, Saint Paul. He pitched well enough for the Saints to earn a call-up. Last season, Jax, along with several other pitchers, auditioned for a future role with the struggling Twins. Frankly, the results were not encouraging. In 18 games (14 starts), Jax posted a 6.37 ERA, walked 29 and allowed 23 homeruns in 82 innings.
That experience and more defined role in bullpen have yielded more solid, consistent performances in 2022. As of August 13, Jax has compiled 4.03 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings over 42 appearances. Opponents are batting just .226 against the 27-year-old.
I caught up with Jax during the last homestand….
DZ: (You’re) having a pretty solid year on the mound, season’s…on the stretch drive. How are you feeling?
JAX: Feel good. Making appointments to hammer recovery work every single day. Just make sure I can give this everything I got, every single day out there.
DZ: Cool. How did much of your experience last year getting that call up; how much did that help you coming into this year?
JAX: I think it helped a lot. I mean, there’s some guys that can come up and just handle the stress right away. But I think part of it is learned a little bit, just learning how to deal with the adversity and stress. And it’s just a different type of grind up here. So, and it for sure helped me out understand what I needed to do this year.
DZ: Cool. Are you still in the Air Force Reserves?
DZ: What do you have to do for that?
JAX: I’d rather not talk about that.
DZ: Okay. Yeah. Have you seen Top Gun?
JAX: I mean, any military question, I just rather not talk about.
DZ: All right. What’d you do to stay ready during the 2020 season?
JAX: Yeah. It was kind of lighting a fire underneath me a little bit. Didn’t get asked to go to the alternate site. So, we had to sit down after the 2019 season. It was my Rule V off season. Didn’t get protected, didn’t get picked up. So, I knew I had to change something. So sat down with a couple of the Twins coordinators and they explained to me what they valued as an organization, and just gave me that extra six, seven months to kind of hammer and nail it down.
DZ: Cool. When you’re in that Rule V situation, are you kind of hoping to get picked? Just because you know you can get a chance in the major leagues?
JAX: I think everybody in that situation hopes to get picked.
DZ: Yeah. Okay. And one last thing, I read your dad (Garth) played in the NFL for quite a while…What’d you learn about being a pro athlete from him?
JAX: Yeah, he was huge growing up. He taught my brothers and I about the work ethic and hard work. I mean, he had a pretty solid NFL career. I think he played 11 or so seasons, or parts of 11. And so, he was never one of the best or at least is what he told us, so it was always, “You’re going to be the first one in, last one to leave, and you’re going to do everything you can to make sure…that it is performance, not something that you couldn’t control that gets you out of the game.” So, that’s why I always hammer the controllables: nutrition, sleep, hydration, I’m doing all that stuff and I’ll invest a lot into that because I don’t want that to be the reason I’m out of the game someday.
DZ: Did you spend a lot of time around the NFL locker rooms, or anything like that? Training camp, or anything?
JAX: I remember so little. I think he was 4 when I retired…So, he did a lot of front office and just coaching work as I was growing up and when he retired. We remember more of that than I do remember him playing.