Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next is UCLA right-hander Griffin Canning, a 6-foot-1, 170 lb. right-hander from Coto de Caza, California. Canning had a stellar final collegiate season for the Bruins, posting a 7-4 record and 2.34 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 119 innings. He was projected as a sure first-round pick in recent weeks, though recent reports have indicated that injury concerns on his pre-draft medicals may have caused a recent drop in his stock.
Draft-day mocks do not have Canning going in the first round due to the medical, though he was previously thought to be of interest to the Angels with the 10th pick and the Angels with the 16th pick. Be sure to check out Canning’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you loved the game?
“I was pretty young, probably 3 or maybe 4.”
For you, was there a turning point moment when you realized you could potentially be a first-round pick?
“I always played growing up. I definitely knew that I was lucky to be able to be born with baseball in my genes. Probably toward my junior or senior year in high school and then getting into college I kind of had an idea.”
For you, which team was your favorite growing up? Favorite player?
“The Angels, they’re the closest team to me. Favorite player kind of changed growing up, but I’d say the most consistent was probably Derek Jeter.”
Three years ago, you were taken in the 38th round but decided to end up going to college at UCLA. What went into your decision back then?
“At that point, I just don’t think I was ready for the full commitment to having baseball be my life. I encourage a lot of guys to go to school and get the college experience. The best three years have been some of the best three years of my life. I’ve built really good relationships with my teammates and coaches. I just really developed and matured. I’m really happy with that decision to go to school.”
You pitched at a place that has churned out a ton of pitching talent in the last few years, with Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and James Kaprielian all being recent first-rounders. Why is it that so many starters come out of there?
“That’s all Coach [John] Savage. He does a really good job of recruiting the right guys to come into the program. And then once they’re there, everybody knows the pedigree of what’s been there before them. They kind of know what’s expected of them and then obviously Coach does an awesome guy of developing guys.”
Have Gerrit, Trevor or James given you any advice about the draft process?
“I’ve met Gerrit a couple times, so I’ve been able to talk to him a little bit. I played with James my freshman year so he’s obviously been a big resource for me.”
What led to your commitment to go to UCLA in the first place?
“UCLA was the first school I talked to during my sophomore year in high school. I talked with Coach Savage and he got me up to school for a visit, and he just made it seem like the right fit pretty instantly. There was nothing we could see wrong with it so it was a pretty easy decision.”
This one’s a little bit off topic, but I’ll try anyway. Your school and campus went through the Lonzo/Lavar Ball experience this year. As a guy within the athletics program, what was this year like with that happening on campus?
“I wasn’t exposed to that. I don’t think it was going on too much around campus. It was awesome to have a basketball team that was that good. A ton of guys on my team, including myself, were trying to go to the games as much as we could. That team was a lot of fun to watch, and it showed for sure.”
What would you say is your biggest strength on the mound?
What part of your game do you want to work on most at the next level and why?
“I think a lot of times pitchers can fall into the trap of trying to make perfect pitches. That’s when you start making more mistakes and get behind in counts. You have to give a good hitter a pitch to hit. Just straying away from trying to make perfect pitches or trying to be perfect and focusing on attacking hitters.”
This year you hit a new level on the mound, especially with strikeout totals (140 K in 119 IP). What led to that rise for you?
“I was confident in myself that I’d be able to reach this, but it was really just work over the summer getting a lot stronger. That saw a bump in my stuff, and from there it was just me and Coach working together calling pitches and knowing how we were going to attack guys. Just getting into leverage counts, and from there you can execute pitches and try to get guys. I’m not necessarily trying to strike guys out, but once I get into leverage counts it kind of just happens.”
A lot of guys in this draft have one signature pitch, though you have a four-pitch mix that scoutr rave about. How did those four pitched develop over time?
“I’ve pretty much thrown most of them for a while. Mostly in high school, I was just fastball/slider, but UCLA is a really big changeup school, so once I got here I worked pretty hard and developed that. I started throwing my curveball freshman year at UCLA. It’s come with practice, just working in bullpens. Being able to trust them.”
Your freshman year when your team was a highly ranked playoff team, you had to sit out the postseason with a stress fracture in your back. What was that experience like?
“It was tough. I had pitched most of the year and missed the last two starts. We were the No. 1 national team and unfortunately ran into a good Maryland team. It was tough to watch, but definitely a good experience. Going into this year, I didn’t really know how [playoffs] were going to be but I kind of knew being involved in that situation before. It was a cool experience to be a part of that but it was obviously kind of disappointing.”
Every year’s draft has people debating between high-upside, projectable high school arms and high-floor, polished college pitchers. What is it about a college pitcher that is most attractive to clubs?
“Experience. Consistency, because you know what you’re gonna get. They’ve been able to show what they can do for three years, while high school guys are playing on a showcase circuit and that competition. They’re so young in their development, that you really don’t know how they’ll react to the new lifestyle. The college guy who has been away from home for three years being able to live on his own and just develop, personally, I think that helps for sure.”
Pick your comp, the major-leaguer most similar to you on the mound.
“There are a couple I can probably think of. I wore 55 at UCLA because of Orel Hershiser. I never really got to watch him pitch, obviously, but I’ve heard a bunch of stories about him and have been able to watch some videos on YouTube. Hearing stories about his competitiveness, his nickname was “The Bulldog” so that’s something I model myself after a little bit.”
What are your expectations for where you’ll fall on the draft board? Any goals?
“Not really. I’m looking forward to the process but don’t want to assume anything. Baseball players are pretty superstitious, so I’m gonna just keep going about it and see what happens.”