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Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospect scouting report: Brett Graves, RHP

Our Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospects list is out. Now find out more about the players on that list. In this piece, a close look at top-50 prospect Brett Graves. Graves had a strong finish to his 2016 season. Can he parlay that finish into a breakout 2017 season?

Name: Brett Graves
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 23
How Acquired: Selected in the third round of the 2014 MLB draft.

Brett Graves hasn’t yet put together a sparkling season-end statline, but the Oakland A’s 2014 third-round pick has improved aspects of his game in each of his two full professional seasons. Will it all come together for Graves in 2017? After a solid three-year career at Missouri pitching in the ultra-competitive SEC, Graves was eased into his professional career in 2014. The right-hander split his pro debut campaign between the A’s Rookie League club and the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters, appearing in nine games. In 22 innings, he posted a 6.55 ERA and a 19:7 K:BB.

In 2015, Graves began the year with several of his 2014 draftmates in the rotation of the Low-A Beloit Snappers. Like many of his Snappers’ teammates, Graves had an up-and-down first full professional season. He led the team in wins with 12 and threw 142.2 innings, showing durability, but he also pitched with diminished velocity for the entire season and had to learn to out-think hitters rather than rely on his mid-90s fastball to blow the ball by them. The results were mixed. He posted a 5.36 ERA and a 91:44 K:BB with 15 homers allowed.

The A’s weren’t deterred by Graves’ inconsistency with the Snappers. They were encouraged by the improvements he made with his secondary offerings and were impressed with his work ethic and determination even as he struggled. When Graves reported to spring training, his fastball had more life than it had in 2015 and the A’s didn’t hesitate to push him up to High-A Stockton. 

It wasn’t all smooth-sailing for Graves with the Ports, however. He once again struggled with inconsistency during the first half of the season with Stockton. Graves walked 30 and struck-out just 41 in 74 first-half innings and his ERA was 5.72. Graves improved during the second-half of the year, however. Despite fighting blister issues for several weeks, Graves showed dramatic improvement down-the-stretch. His second-half ERA was 3.36 in 67 innings with a 45:19 K:BB.

Brett Graves stats

2016 Stockton 141 4.60 141 49 86 1.35 1.37
Career 305.2 5.09 333 100 196 1.42 1.24

Stockton pitching coach Steve Connelly – who also worked with Graves in Beloit in 2015 and Vermont in 2014 – says that Graves’ improvement late in 2016 was mainly due to a change in his mindset on the mound.

Last year in Beloit, he lost his velocity and he had to learn how to pitch. He had to learn how to use the two-seamer and he had to trust the change-up. Then he comes into spring training this year, and the velocity was back, but he was still trying to pitch like he was throwing 87-89,” Connelly said. “Somewhere in the middle of the season, he decided that he was going to throw hard again. So we challenged him to throw hard. From 89-90, he started averaging 93 and hitting some 95s. The thing was, I dont know if he truly believed he could command the ball by throwing hard. Once he realized that he could and he bought into it that made a big difference.” 

When Graves is throwing well, he can be extremely tough on hitters. He has an effective sinker that sits in the 88-91 range and a four-seamer that can touch 95. Graves also has a cut-fastball that breaks late in on lefties and away on righties. Over the past year, he has developed two different breaking balls – a slow, big bending curveball and a tighter slider. The big bender is more of a ‘show-me’ pitch that keeps hitters from sitting first-pitch fastball and the slider is a put-away pitch that breaks down towards the hitter’s back foot and generates both swings-and-misses and groundballs. His change-up is a solid pitch that he can throw for strikes and as a change-of-pace offering.

Despite the increase in velocity, Graves still only struck-out 86 in 141 innings in 2016. As a sinkerballer, he isn’t likely ever to be a big strike-out pitcher. If he is mixing his pitches well, he will induce a lot of weak contact on the ground and will be able to keep his pitch count low and work deep into games. In many ways, Graves profiles similarly to former A’s prospect Dylan Covey, who was selected in the Rule 5 Draft early this month.

The blister issue is the only health issue of significance that Graves has faced since turning pro and he has proven to be very durable thus far. He is one of the hardest working pitchers in the A’s system, putting in plenty of time both in the weightroom and in front of the charts preparing for his starts.

Graves’ 5.09 ERA in 305 career innings doesn’t scream ‘top prospect’, but the A’s are still high on the right-hander. They feel he is starting to find his identity as a starter and intend to keep him in that role for now. However, there is also the sense that Graves has the stuff to be a big league late-inning reliever if he isn’t able to see a significant improvement in his stats.

People with arms like his, you can certainly say that because it could play up [in the bullpen]. He would need to fail, and he hasnt failed. But with his aggressive attitude, hed do fine in both roles, As minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said. I think we still have a ways to go with him as a starter.

Graves will turn 24 before the start of the 2017 season. He will compete for a spot in the Double-A Midland rotation this spring. How he fares the first half of the 2017 season will likely go a long way towards determining whether he remains a starter or moves into the bullpen in 2018. 

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