It isn’t rare to see Major Leaguers have unique skills outside the lines of the ballpark. Twins fans saw Trevor May showcase his gaming skills to the world. Mookie Betts channels his inner Pete Weber with strikes on the bowling ally.
Make room for Twins prospect Griffin Jax.
There’s no telling what Jax can do with a bowling ball or a joystick. Yet one thing’s for sure- the Air Force Academy alum and Twins pitcher is going to change the world whether it be on the diamond or as a future business leader in today’s society.
Jax, 26, isn’t just dealing on the bump. He’s currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Business Administration with a focus in Marketing and Data Analytics from Colorado State University.
It’s not uncommon for professional athletes to pursue a degree following their career on the field. Jax’s situation is impressive, as he’s worn the dueling hats of graduate student and professional baseball player simultaneously the past two years.
“I think I was going to do it (go to graduate school) eventually no matter what my career was going to be,” Jax said. “I’ve always taken school seriously and made it a priority growing up. A lot of that came from my parents and how they raised my brothers and I.”
A native of Phoenix who grew up in Denver, Jax was drafted by the Twins in the third round of the 2016 draft. He’s worked his way up the Twins organization, going from a young boy eating burgers at Cherry Cricket in the Denver metro to posting arguably the best start at AAA Saint Paul for the Saints so far this year.
And while his focus currently lies on baseball (and likely will for a long time), Jax understands that it’s important to have a vocation outside of the childhood dream that he’s currently living out.
“At the end of the day, I’m not sure where baseball is going to lead. I’m putting all my chips in that corner and it’s an amazing opportunity and my dream, but I do understand that it’s not going to be there forever and when that comes I want to be ready to enter a new life and opportunity,” Jax said.
School and Strikeouts
While the thought of furthering his education was always an interest, a seed was planted in Griffin’s mind following graduation from the Air Force Academy in 2016. MLB clubs will oftentimes help pay for the tuition of draft picks if they chose to continue their education down the road. Since the Air Force Academy is a military institution, students are waived of tuition upon attendance.
“The Air Force offered to help me out with a masters degree and that’s how I initially became interested in it,” Jax said.
Online classes and the cancellation of last year’s minor league season helped streamline Jax’s studies in a program that he says will prepare him to bridge the gap between business leaders and analytic gurus.
“You’ve got business decision makers and analytics departments and typically it's tough to get communication between the two because the business folks don’t always understand or adapt to analytics,” Jax said. “On the other hand, the analytics folks don’t always do a great job of sitting business leaders down and talking them through the process of the numbers. My role through this program is to be the middle ground between the two.”
Jax has seen direct correlation between the content of his studies and his with work on the field with the Twins organization. With a focus on data analytics, Jax has dipped his feet into the coding puddle, something that the Twins scouting department uses on the daily. In fact, Jax has worked with the scouting department directly on a coding platform that both parties use.
“One of the classes that I’m in, we’re learning about coding and we use a platform called ‘R’. I was getting ready for my Pittsburgh spring training start earlier this year and I bumped into one of the head scouting directors,” Jax recalled. “He was toying around with ‘R’ and building the team’s scout maps that we use against other teams hitters and pitchers."
“Right there I was like ‘Wow,’ I didn’t know that this was being used in baseball. I ended up talking to him a bunch and have been leaning on him a lot this semester because it’s (the platform) brand new to me.”
The correlation has helped Jax grow both as a pitcher and a student of the game, and in life.
“It’s super interesting to see how that (coding and data analysis) directly translates to baseball and how the Twins are using it. It’s definitely peaked my interest.”
Numbers Don't Lie
It’s no secret that baseball has progressed into a sport reliant on advanced statistics and in-depth data analysis. As a high-level pitcher, Jax is no stranger to the recent evolution of stat-driven analysis.
“When I was first drafted in 2016, we weren’t talking about this at all,” Jax said. “And now, I don’t throw a pitch on the mound without having it tracked, reported, and measured by a machine that will read us all of our reports. Seeing the progression is mind-blowing.”
Jax credits the Twins organization for embracing the new trend in a world that has seen some tension between data-driven baseball and ‘old school feel-it out tactics.’
“The Twins have done a really good job of handling the analytics side of the game,” he said. “Our staff has done a great job teaching us how to enable this stuff to make the most of our careers.”
Jax believes that the ‘new wave’ of baseball has boosted his performance as he guns for his childhood dream of making the majors. The 6’2 flamethrower was electric in his first start for the Saints last week, tossing five innings of one-run baseball.
Griffin will graduate from his masters program this summer. And while it’s safe to say that he’s got a bright future on the bump, Jax will positively impact the world wherever life takes him.