Atlanta Braves 2012 Top Prospects Review: J.R. Graham
Welcome to a new series I am putting together where I review the Braves top 10 prospects from the 2012 season! I will be using MLB pipeline just to keep things simple. Up first, the number 10 prospect from 2012 according to MLB: J.R. Graham!
J.R. Graham Showed Potential
Although he was an undersized right-hander, Graham was seen as someone that really attacked hitters. Scouts credited an unorthodox techniques to build up the arm strength that allow him to hit the mid-90s with his fastball.
Coming into 2012, J.R. Graham was trending upward. After being selected in the 4th round by the Braves in the 2011 draft, he would lead the Appalachian League in ERA during his debut season. HIs performance earned him a promotion to A+ ball to begin 2012 (Lynchburg at the time) and would eventually find himself in AA.
Looking at his 2012 numbers, it is easy to see why people were excited:
- A+: 102.2 IP- 2.63 ERA, 3.38 FIP, & 3.31 xFIP
- AA: 45.1 IP- 3.18 ERA, 3.12 FIP, & 3.09 xFIP
This led to even more momentum for J.R. Graham in prospect rankings. He was listed as the Braves 4th rated prospect for the 2013 season, and other publications were loving him as well. Baseball America viewed Graham as the 93rd best prospect in all of baseball.
There were reasons to be excited about J.R. Graham’s future.
Shoulder Issues Slowed J.R. Graham’s Ascension
As mentioned, 2013 was looking to be a big year for J.R. Graham. He was poised to take the next step and maybe establish himself as the top prospect in the Braves farm system. He would begin the year back in AA. In 35.2 innings, Graham had a 4.04 ERA, but had a 2.18 FIP & 2.82 xFIP. Meaning maybe he was experiencing some tough luck.
Unfortunately, his luck continued to turn as a shoulder injury would sideline him for the remainder of 2013. Graham would return in 2014, pitching 71.1 innings with a 5.15 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 3.99 xFIP. Now, the shoulder issues were raising questions about if Graham would remain a starter long-term, as he would make 8 appearances out of the bullpen to 19 starts.
Another issue was the strikeout rate. While he was never a huge strikeout guy, the K rate plummeted from his huge 2012 season and can probably be attributed to those should injuries. Here are the strikeout rates:
- 2012: 22.5%
- 2013: 18.7%
- 2014: 15.7%
He was not missing many bats anymore and that is an issue for any pitcher. Not saying every pitching prospect needs to be a big strikeout guy, but when one rarely misses any bats, it starts to become worrisome.
This would also signal the end of J.R. Graham’s tenure with the Atlanta Braves.
Minnesota Twins Select J.R. Graham in the Rule 5 Draft
During the 2014 Winter Meetings, the Minnesota Twins selected J.R. Graham in the Rule 5 draft. The Braves left him unprotected and most rule 5 picks end up being pitchers, so it was not a huge surprise. It was a disappointing end to Graham’s career with the Braves.
It would, however, allow Graham to at least get a shot in the major leagues. He made his debut on April 6th, 2015 throwing two scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers. It was a rough season for Graham though. He would throw 63.2 innings, all out of the bullpen outside of one start, and accumulate a 4.95 ERA, 5.17 xERA, 4.69 FIP, and 4.08 xFIP. He was worth -0.4 bWAR and -0.2 fWAR.
He would return to Minnesota in 2016, pitch only 1.2 innings in the major leagues before being Designated for Assignment on May 6th. He would be acquired by the Yankees on May 14th for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Unfortunately, he would never make it back to the major leagues. He spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons mostly bouncing between the Yankees AA and AAA teams before being released on January 21st, 2018. He never played for another MLB organization.
The Sky Was the Limit for J.R. Graham
There was so much hope for J.R. Graham. He was rising through the prospect rankings and gaining some national recognition before shoulder issues slowed him down. He projected more as a mid-rotation guy at his ceiling, maybe someone that would be a solid 3 or 4 in a rotation. However, like so many pitching prospects, a shoulder injury hampered his career.
There is a reason team’s load up on pitching prospects. We heard as the Braves underwent their rebuild that they were acquiring so many pitching prospects is because of how volatile they are. Sometimes it takes ten pitching prospects to find two or three major league starters.
J.R. Graham ends up as a “what could have been,” story. What would his career had looked like if the shoulder stays healthy? Even if he still doesn’t develop, he probably gets more opportunities than he did.
Up next, we look at Zeke Spruill!