Name: Brett Graves
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 175
How Acquired: Drafted by the A’s in the 3rd round in the 2014 draft
Brett Graves Statistics
From a results perspective, Brett Graves’ transition from college to the pros hasn’t been particularly smooth. In 164.2 innings over the past two years, Graves has a 5.52 ERA and a mediocre 110:51 K:BB. However, several A’s minor league coaches and front office personnel insist that Graves’ growth as a pitcher since being drafted in 2014 has been significant.
Graves came to the A’s out of Missouri with the reputation for being a power pitcher. His fastball was touted as a mid-90s offering and was considered a pitch that would carry him in pro ball. Since turning pro, that mid-90s velocity hasn’t been there for Graves, at least not consistently. This year with Low-A Beloit, Graves’ fastball sat more often in the 90-92 MPH range, occasionally touching 95. Without a mid-90s heater consistently at his disposal, Graves had to learn to use all of his pitches and out-think hitters rather than simply blowing the ball past them.
“For whatever reason, the big fastball wasn’t there, so he had to learn to pitch not just with stuff,” former A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston said. “He had to learn to hit spots and change speeds and tilt the ‘zone. For me, that was the positive of this [season], because he can understand for this upcoming year that ‘okay, my velocity doesn’t have to be this to succeed’ because he was expecting [the velocity] to be at a certain level.”
A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman echoed Alston’s assessment of Graves’ performance in 2015.
“Graves may not have had the big velocity that he had in college, but he has learned to pitch and develop a curveball that is working right now,” Lieppman said in a late-season interview. “He’s learning how to use a two-seam fastball and executing pitches rather than last year in college or in Vermont, just trying to over-power hitters with belt-high or letter-high fastballs. That doesn’t really work as you progress up levels.”
In addition to the two-seam and four-seam fastball and the curveball, Graves throws a change-up and added a cut-fastball that has replaced his slider. He wasn’t a strike-out pitcher last season (14.5% K rate), but he did a good job of keeping the ball down in the strike-zone, for the most part. Graves had a 46% groundball rate on balls hit into play, although his HR/9 was 0.95, an indication that his location was still not always consistent.
Interestingly, his homer rates more than doubled after the All-Star break (five in 72.2 IP before the break and 10 in 70 IP after the break), but his K:BB improved considerably after the break (1.44 before the break and 3.05 after). Graves wasn’t helped this season by a porous Beloit defense that finished second-to-last in the Midwest League in fielding percentage.
There is still plenty left for Graves to work on going into next season. His delivery can be inconsistent at times. He has a tendency to cut his stride short and not follow all the way through towards the plate. When everything is online to the plate and he gets his good follow-through, Graves gets downward action on his pitches. When he doesn’t get full extension, his pitches tend to flatten out and elevate, and that’s when he gets into trouble.
The good news for Graves is that he is coming out of the 2015 season with a better handle on how to use all of his pitches in terms of sequencing. He still shows flashes of that mid-90s fastball and he has three off-speed pitches that have all worked for him at times. If his velocity does ever return to his college levels on a consistent basis, he could be dangerous given that he now knows how to mix his pitches better.
Despite the high ERA with Beloit, Graves is likely to move up to High-A Stockton next season. His margin for location errors will be even smaller in the hitter-friendly California League, but Graves will also be in a good position to build off of what he learned about sequencing in 2015.