ST. PETERSBURG, FL. — When your draft lasts 40 rounds you can afford to waste a pick or two. It seems the Seattle Mariners did just that when they spent a pick in the 24th round in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft on Trey Griffey.
“I told them from day one that I was pretty much done with baseball,’’ Griffey said. “I told them, ‘My love is football. I’m not focused on baseball. I’m focused on football.’’’
Griffey has been focused on football for a while. In fact, the last time he played any kind of organized baseball was when he was 11. He didn’t even bother to go out for his high school team.
Still, you can see why the Mariners took a chance on him. The strapping 6-foot-3, 216 pounder is the son of Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. That’s why the Mariners chose the 24th round to bring him on board.
Griffey’s father wore the No. 24 during his Mariners career. The pick was more of a nod to Griffey Jr.’s legacy than anything else, though there was a method to the Mariners’ madness.
Like his father, Trey Griffey is an exceptional athlete, one good enough to spend four years playing wide receiver at the University of Arizona, where he recently earned a berth in the East-West Shrine Game.
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Athletes like that are worth taking a chance on and just like the Mariners took a chance, Trey Griffey is now hoping some NFL team will do the same when the NFL draft rolls around this spring.
The chances are good, not great. As gifted as he is, Griffey doesn’t have much of a resume. During his four years at Arizona, he played in just 35 games and was seldom, if ever, a focal point in the Wildcats offense.
Hampered at times by injuries (he missed the first six games of his junior season to a foot injury) and poor quarterback play, he caught just 79 passes for 1,241 yards and six touchdowns as a collegian.
Look inside the numbers, though, and you begin to see what it is that excites NFL scouts. As a junior, for example, Griffey caught just 11 passes but led the team with a 25.8-yard per catch average.
That averaged dipped to 16.6 during his senior year, one in which he caught 23 passes, but he also showed a knack for drawing pass interference penalties and a willingness to block downfield.
Throw in Griffey’s penchant for making big plays in big games (he had 95-yard touchdown reception against Arizona State) and big plays on special teams (he also led the Wildcats with nine special teams tackles in that win over ASU) and you can see why an NFL team might spend a late-round pick on a third-generation athlete like Griffey, whose grandfather, Ken Griffey Sr. was a three-time MLB All-Star.
“DNA doesn’t lie,’’ NFL analyst Mike Mayock said. “I’ve heard that from a lot of different scouts and coaches over the years. When they hear about a kid like (Griffey) they think, ‘The kid must have something.’”
“Just the fact that you’re the son or the grandson of a great athlete and in this case a Hall of Fame athlete, that’s evidence that athletic ability runs in your family and reinforces things for you.’’
There’s no doubt athletic ability runs in Griffey’s family. His sister Taryn is a redshirt sophomore point guard for the Wildcats women’s basketball team.
Trey, in fact, attributes at least one of his most noted football traits to Taryn, whom he used to take on in one-on-one games of basketball in the driveway of the family’s Orlando, Florida home.
As you might expect of an aspiring guard, Taryn was a deadly long-range shooter. The way to beat her, Trey discovered, was to beat her to rebounds off the boards. That meant outmuscling and out-jumping her.
Trey and Taryn played against each other so much that the ability to jump up and beat an opponent for the ball became second nature to Trey, and he’s carried that skill over to football.
“Growing up it was just natural for us to compete against each other and after a while we got better and better at certain things and so that’s one thing that I thank her for,’’ Griffey said.
“I mean, she’s a great athlete and I learned how to rebound playing against her and I’ve watched over the years how the bigger receivers just kind of go up and get the ball the same way.”
“So I’ve definitely tried to make that a part of my game, too. I mean the best players like Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson do it and it definitely gives them an advantage.’’
The advantage Griffey has over the players he’s competing with for his spot on NFL draft boards is partially inherent, but he knows he has to augment that with a good week of practice and a good outing in the Shrine Game on Saturday. Mayock agreed.
“If you don’t have a lot of production it’s hard to get to an All-Star Game, so you probably have some innate physical traits that got you here and you have to show those off,’’ Mayock said.
“Whether that’s speed, explosion, quickness, you have to show that here. And then you’ve got to show that you’re consistent, because you weren’t that in college. And then finally you have to do well off the field.”
“When the scouts start to ask you questions like ‘Why did you only have 23 catches, why didn’t you play more’ you have to have good answers and be ready to deal with it.”
“You’ve got to be able to look them right in the eye and be honest and be very grateful that you’re here and be ready to take advantage of the opportunity you have here and prove yourself.’’
Griffey believes he’s ready. After all, he’s been focused on this since he was a kid.
“I’m my dad’s son so I’m always going to get those questions about playing baseball, but that’s not my game,’’ Griffey said. “His sport was baseball, my sport is football and I want to make the most of it.
“That’s why it’s great for me to be able to be out here competing with some of the best players in the country. I mean, this is what I want to do and I’m just excited to see what happens here and then when the draft comes around.’’
Editor’s note: This story was edited to correct an error stating Taryn Griffey was a freshman and on a leave of absence. She’s a redshirt sophomore who took a leave of absence last season.