Scouting Report Braves Prospect JR Graham
Over the past two weeks, Braves prospect JR Graham has been a topic of discussion throughout the internet prospect world. First, John Sickels at Minorleagueball listed Graham as the Braves number one overall prospect. Then, CB Wilkins of Talking Chop listed Graham as the Braves number four right handed starting pitching prospect. Finally, Mike Newman at Fangraphs listed JR Graham as his number two scouted reliever in his most recent Newman’s Own series. Now, it’s my turn to weigh in on the Santa Clara University Product.
I scouted JR Graham during his August 5th start against the Chattanooga Lookouts. It wasn’t a great start. Graham allowed 8 baserunners in 4 2/3rds innings, and against a lineup lacking much pizazz. He gave up 5 hits, 3 walks and 2 runs while recording 2 strikeouts on 93 pitches. Despite his struggles, I had a fantastic look at the young right handed pitcher. Graham features three pitches, a fastball, a slider and a changeup.
JR Graham struggled mightily with the command of his fastball throughout this start. Speaking with contacts that have seen him at various points in the 2012 season, this was not a typical struggle for Graham. Like CB Wilkins alluded to in his write up, I had Graham between 93 and 97 MPH on the gun. While filming him from the side, the scoreboard gun (Usually a MPH or two fast) lit up with two 99 MPH readings. Despite the command difficulties, his two seamer was a fantastic pitch. He rode the two seam fastball to a 8:2 groundball to flyball ratio. His two seamer had typical 2 seam movement and he rarely missed up in the zone with the pitch. His four seam fastball failed to really thrill me. He was overthrowing the offering, especially with runners on base. Lookout hitters were not biting on the ball up in the zone and failed to chase it when thrown off the plate. The flatness of the pitch contributed to 3 of the 5 hits and was the catalyst for his high pitch count. In the fifth inning, prior to his removal, he had lost two to three MPH on his four seam fastball.
I feel that I omitted JR Graham in my best pitching tools article. Looking back at my notes and video, JR Graham’s slider should have been the runner up for best scouted slider of the 2012 season next to Marlins pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. Early in the start, Graham lacked feel for his slider. As the start went on, the pitch became sharp and presented with drastic drop, making it an effective tool against left handed hitters as well. I liked that he used it frequently against left handed hitters. Combining sharp lateral movement with significant drop, this 86 to 87 MPH offering is a major league pitch. For a right handed pitcher to be as successful as Graham is with this pitch against lefties, he needs his slider to show movement on multiple planes. This pitch indicates that Graham’s floor is a major league reliever.
As impressive as Graham’s slider was, his change leaves a lot to be desired. I give him credit though, as most pitchers with poor change ups at his age and level simply won’t throw the pitch. The only way a pitch can get better is by using it in game situations. That’s what the minor leagues are for. Clocked at 85 to 87 MPH, this pitch had good speed differential from his fastball. Unfortunately, he telegraphed this pitch by slowing down his delivery and standing tall when he threw it. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was also very flat, with little to no movement. A change up is a feel pitch with many different grips. Not knowing much about Graham’s history with the pitch, I don’t know how experienced he is it or the feel. Having spoken to others, they weren’t optimistic about the change ups that they saw.
I’ve sat on this video for 3 months, revisiting it every few weeks, hoping I could pinpoint what was troubling me about Graham. Indecision can be viewed as a sign of weakness in prospecting but this indecision wasn’t about projecting his stuff; it was about projecting his future role. I wasn’t trusting my gut, which dawned on me last week while talking to Mike Newman, right as his piece went live over at fangraphs. JR Graham’s ceiling is that of a late inning reliever.
Several factors go into this projection, two of which Mike pointed out in his short write up. The first being lack of a change up and mediocre strikeout numbers. While his strikeout numbers improved upon his promotion to Double A overall, his 6.7 strikeout per 9 ratio was disappointing. If his strikeout numbers as a starter improved, and he somehow developed a change up, I would still trend towards the late inning reliever ceiling, primarily based on the amount of effort it takes him to throw his fastball, which could increase his susceptibility to injury. Too much of his torque comes from his upper body, creating increased strain on his throwing shoulder and elbow. The effort in his delivery also points towards decreased stamina.
The Braves organization has thinned out tremendously due to the graduation of some pretty terrific young talent and a some recent disappointing drafts. JR Graham is one of the top prospects in the organization. I personally would take the higher upside, younger and more advanced Julio Teheran in a trade over Graham, despite Teheran’s 2012 struggles. I like Lucas Sims a bit more and I like Alex Wood a bit less. Overall, the Braves should be ecstatic over the prospects of JR Graham. While it’s likely he doesn’t make his debut till September, he can have a definite impact on the 2013 pennant race.