J.R. Graham enters this spring training as a non-roster invitee with the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were unwilling to include the 23-year old in their trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire Justin Upton.
That shows how much the Braves believe in Graham, the No. 2 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America. Graham has the chance to prove this spring training that he’s ready to impact the team at the MLB level.
2012 Recap: Graham found most of his success during the 2012 season at high-A Lynchburg but also got nine starts at Double-A Mississippi. In both leagues, he posted a 12-2 record and led the organization in ERA (2.80) and WHIP (1.06). His numbers saw a slight jump at Double-A (3.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) but nothing to cause concern about his development. His hits allowed per nine innings and strikeouts per nine innings actually improved after making the jump.
Graham was arguably the best pitcher in the Braves’ minor league system in 2012, which makes him an intriguing guy to watch this spring training.
2013 Outlook: Here’s what we know about Graham. He features a sinking fastball that can touch 97. His slider and changeup are plus pitches according to most scouts. He has great control as shown by his low WHIP, and generates ground ball outs with his sinking fastball. He pitches to contact as he struck out 6.7 batters every nine innings – good numbers, but not staggering. Graham has the stuff to succeed in 2013 and beyond. Where he will pitch is the big question.
Much of that depends on his success this spring training and what happens with the rest of the pitching staff. It’s a long shot for Graham to make the roster out of camp, but he could be competing with Sean Gilmartin as the first backup in the rotation if anyone gets injured or slumps before Brandon Beachy returns.
What could be interesting to watch with Graham is a possible switch to the bullpen. If the Braves’ young arms (Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Beachy and Gilmartin) all have effective years, the Braves may add right-handed depth to their bullpen.
However, he is currently a starter, and the Braves know very well it’s not a bad thing to have starting pitching depth. Expect Graham to begin 2013 in Double-A or Triple-A, and be a September call-up at the end of the year.
Also, expect the Braves to find a place for him somewhere on the staff in 2014 as long as he continues his minor league success.