Atlanta Braves pitching prospect J.R. Graham did what all prospects visualize doing in their first full season of pro ball.
Graham made a name for himself by fast-tracking to Double-A in his first full season. After getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 draft out of Santa Clara University, Graham threw 57.2 innings for Rookie League Danville to end the 2011 season.
In 2012, Graham recorded a 2.63 ERA with 68 strikeouts to 17 walks in 102.2 innings for Class-A Advanced Lynchburg before moving to Double-A Mississippi, where he finished with a 3.18 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 17 walks in 45.1 innings for the Mississippi team.
The 23-year-old right-hander wasn't found near the top of most prospect lists entering the 2012 season, but by the time the year ended, his name was constantly mentioned in prospect talks. He enters the 2013 season ranked No. 2 on Baseball America's Top 10 Braves prospects.
"The Braves did a great job of easing me into a starting role, and I just ran with it," Graham said. "It went well, the season went well. I couldn’t have asked for much more. We're just trying to build off that now."
As is often the case with pitching prospects developing into starters, the use of a quality third pitch is crucial. Graham sat 93-96 miles per hour on his fastball for much of the season, along with a biting slider in the mid-80s. The development of a changeup was the big question mark.
"(The changeup) feels good," he said. "I worked on it all year. I changed a couple grips but finally found one that was comfortable. I’ve been working on it hard, and I feel really comfortable with it. I feel I have three really good pitches now."
Graham is listed at 6-0, 180 pounds with reports saying he's an athletic pitcher who can handle the durability test of starting. But he said he still has work to do acclimating his body to the job.
"(Starting) helped me develop that third pitch," he said. "Physically, I still need to adapt to that longer season and daily grind."
Graham will be with the big league camp in Spring Training. From there, he will either return to Double-A or begin 2013 at Triple-A Gwinnett.