A great deal about the Atlanta Braves pitching staff is set in stone with the only questions coming around the fifth starter job. J.R. Graham was thought to be heading quickly towards that kind of a job after a crazy good 2012 season. A shoulder injury that required surgery forced him to miss most of the 2013 season however. Now his trip to 2014 Spring Training means much more than any previous trip.
It isn’t like the Braves have not dealt with pitching injuries before. One of the top prospects in the system is a recent draftee who has already had Tommy John surgery. For Graham it was his shoulder but the problem is much the same. The Braves have to know and Graham has to be ready and able to prove that he is still one of the top arms in the organization.
The great 2012 he had led the entire Braves farm system in ERA and to follow that with a promising spring one year ago had Graham on the fast track. Being derailed like he was is a tough situation to be in. Chances are good that he will begin the season at Double-A Mississippi. Whether he begins that season with hope and momentum or with dread and added pressure depends on his spring.
Is it really that big of a deal how well he performs this spring? Yes it absolutely is a big deal. To be clear, his ERA and exact numbers won’t be that important. What the Braves and Graham will be looking for is for his arm strength to be at a normal place and for his pitches to be solid. Any changes in velocity will send up red flags so that is important as well. It’s a huge spring for Graham. All signs point to him doing well so we will see how it goes.