Just A Matter Of Time For Graham

On a pitching staff that has led the Class A Advanced Lynchburg Hillcats to the top of the Carolina League's Northern Division, there has been nobody more reliable than J.R. Graham. He is one of five Hillcats headed to the California/Carolina League All-Star Game, and it's easy to see why.

In 13 starts this year, Graham has put up a record of 8-1 and a 2.53 ERA. However, it's not just his outstanding numbers that are drawing attention from teams and scouts around the league.

"This kid is very bright on the hill, and he controls the running game," manager Luis Salazar said. "He is knocking on the door of the big leagues. He's one of the best pitchers in the league right now.

"He likes to compete, and he likes the action. He's a bulldog on the hill. He's a nice piece to have down here, and he's got a great arm. He's only 6-foot-1, but he's got a big heart."

It is somewhat uncommon to see a player at 6-foot-1 like Graham reach 98 on the radar gun like he occasionally does, but it's not just his raw talent and ability that has led to his success. One of the things that impressed pitching coach Derek Botelho about Graham was the fact that he is so coachable.

"He's so consistent, and that's the thing you want to see," Botelho said. "We made some changes on some grips with a slider, and he's taken off with it. It's a slider with depth that is a true power slider he's throwing at 87 to 90 mph.

"That's tremendous. He's been a great kid and a pleasure to work with. I think the Braves are real happy with his development at this point."

Graham's four-seam fastball normally stays around 95 to 96 mph, and he also throws a two-seam fastball, a changeup and two different sliders. According to Graham, the key to continuing his success going forward will be developing his changeup.

"I feel like I have a pretty good fastball and a pretty good feel for the slider," Graham said. "I can throw those anytime I want, anywhere I want. I really want to have that good changeup. It's that third pitch that I really need to be successful at the next level."

Graham isn't striking out as many batters as he did last year in his first taste of professional baseball, but he explains that his approach might be the reason for that.

"I want to go deep in games, so I'm just trying to pitch mostly to contact," Graham said. "If I get to 0-2 or 1-2 I am looking for that punchout, but if I can get weak contact early I'll take that over a punchout any day."

During the offseason, Graham went back to his home state of California and prepared for the season, and he also got the chance to visit his old college. He met the new coaching staff and did some catching up with his old coaches at Santa Clara University. He spent three years there before being drafted by the Braves in the fourth round in 2011.

"I wanted to put on a little more weight for myself, just because I knew the season was going to be a grind and the extra weight would help me get through it," Graham said. "There was nothing major. I just wanted to get bigger, faster and stronger."

After the offseason was over and the spring began, Salazar got his first look at Graham on the mound. Graham didn't miss his chance to make an impression.

"I heard a lot of nice things about him in Spring Training," Salazar said. "They said this kid's going to be a very special pitcher for you guys.

"When I first saw him pitch I thought this kid's going to be my opening day pitcher. He comes to work and to compete. So far, he's been one of the best pitchers in the league."

Although it's only his first full season in professional baseball, Salazar and Botelho see some real potential in Graham.

"I think he's going to be a kid that is going to be a pretty good big league pitcher," Botelho said. "I can't tell you right now whether he's going to start or be a reliever, but he's a guy that I think down the road he's going to have a very, very good career."

Nobody knows how long it'll take for J.R. Graham to make it to the big leagues or what role he'll fill, but one thing seems obvious. It's only a matter of time.


Atlanta Dugout Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nIn 13 starts this year, Graham has put up a record of 8-1 and a 2.53 ERA. However, it's not just his outstanding numbers that are drawing attention from teams and scouts around the league.
\r\n
\r\n\"This kid is very bright on the hill, and he controls the running game,\" manager Luis Salazar said. \"He is knocking on the door of the big leagues. He's one of the best pitchers in the league right now.
\r\n
\r\n\"He likes to compete, and he likes the action. He's a bulldog on the hill. He's a nice piece to have down here, and he's got a great arm. He's only 6-foot-1, but he's got a big heart.\"
\r\n
\r\nIt is somewhat uncommon to see a player at 6-foot-1 like Graham reach 98 on the radar gun like he occasionally does, but it's not just his raw talent and ability that has led to his success. One of the things that impressed pitching coach Derek Botelho about Graham was the fact that he is so coachable.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's so consistent, and that's the thing you want to see,\" Botelho said. \"We made some changes on some grips with a slider, and he's taken off with it. It's a slider with depth that is a true power slider he's throwing at 87 to 90 mph.
\r\n
\r\n\"That's tremendous. He's been a great kid and a pleasure to work with. I think the Braves are real happy with his development at this point.\"
\r\n
\r\nGraham's four-seam fastball normally stays around 95 to 96 mph, and he also throws a two-seam fastball, a changeup and two different sliders. According to Graham, the key to continuing his success going forward will be developing his changeup.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel like I have a pretty good fastball and a pretty good feel for the slider,\" Graham said. \"I can throw those anytime I want, anywhere I want. I really want to have that good changeup. It's that third pitch that I really need to be successful at the next level.\"
\r\n
\r\nGraham isn't striking out as many batters as he did last year in his first taste of professional baseball, but he explains that his approach might be the reason for that.
\r\n
\r\n\"I want to go deep in games, so I'm just trying to pitch mostly to contact,\" Graham said. \"If I get to 0-2 or 1-2 I am looking for that punchout, but if I can get weak contact early I'll take that over a punchout any day.\"
\r\n
\r\nDuring the offseason, Graham went back to his home state of California and prepared for the season, and he also got the chance to visit his old college. He met the new coaching staff and did some catching up with his old coaches at Santa Clara University. He spent three years there before being drafted by the Braves in the fourth round in 2011.
\r\n
\r\n\"I wanted to put on a little more weight for myself, just because I knew the season was going to be a grind and the extra weight would help me get through it,\" Graham said. \"There was nothing major. I just wanted to get bigger, faster and stronger.\"
\r\n
\r\nAfter the offseason was over and the spring began, Salazar got his first look at Graham on the mound. Graham didn't miss his chance to make an impression.
\r\n
\r\n\"I heard a lot of nice things about him in Spring Training,\" Salazar said. \"They said this kid's going to be a very special pitcher for you guys.
\r\n
\r\n\"When I first saw him pitch I thought this kid's going to be my opening day pitcher. He comes to work and to compete. So far, he's been one of the best pitchers in the league.\"
\r\n
\r\nAlthough it's only his first full season in professional baseball, Salazar and Botelho see some real potential in Graham.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think he's going to be a kid that is going to be a pretty good big league pitcher,\" Botelho said. \"I can't tell you right now whether he's going to start or be a reliever, but he's a guy that I think down the road he's going to have a very, very good career.\"
\r\n
\r\nNobody knows how long it'll take for J.R. Graham to make it to the big leagues or what role he'll fill, but one thing seems obvious. It's only a matter of time.
\r\n
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