Draft : : Top Prospects
Saturday, May 28, 2011

50 in 50: J.R. Graham

Allan Simpson        

J.R. Graham
RHP / Santa Clara

Bats-Throws: R-R
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Hometown: Livermore, Calif.
Previously Drafted: Athletics ’08 (46)
Birthdate: Jan. 14, 1990

Even with his slight frame, Graham has one of the most-electric arms in this year’s draft class. His fastball reached 97-98 mph this spring as a matter of routine, and often peaked out at 100. For a time, it looked like Graham’s overpowering fastball alone would vault him into the first round, especially when he didn’t walk a batter through his first 12 relief appearances, spanning 24 innings. At the time, he had no walks and 26 strikeouts. But Graham’s performance started to level off after he made a rare start in the final game of Santa Clara’s West Coast Conference season-opening, three-game series against Loyola Marymount on April 10, when he was rocked for eight runs in five-plus innings, and walked his first batter of the season. With Santa Clara posting just a 17-32 record (4-15 in conference) this season, save opportunities were tough to come by for Graham, and he ended up making three more starts to get in some meaningful innings. Overall, he went 3-4, 3.54 with four walks and 41 strikeouts in 53 innings. As the season wound down, most of the talk about Graham going in the first round had pretty much subsided, and the consensus among scouts is that he’ll be a second-rounder, though could possibly slip into the sandwich round. Graham is highly athletic and very competitive, but his issue as a prospect has always revolved around his big arm—and small, wiry frame. As a senior in high school, Graham weighed only 165 pounds, but had little trouble reaching 92 mph and showcasing his impressive arm strength from the hole at shortstop. He was a solid two-way prospect at the time, with speed (6.68 in the 60) and sound infield actions, and actually saw significant time at third base in his first two seasons at Santa Clara. But when he struggled to hit at the college level, and it was becoming increasingly clear that his future was on the mound, Graham settled in as a closer for the Broncos over the latter part of the 2010 season. In 23 appearances, he saved four games while going 1-1, 5.27. During the summer in the Northwoods League, Graham focused on pitching and earned strong reviews for his quick arm and ability to pound the strike zone with easy 92-94 mph velocity. By this spring, Graham had jacked up his velocity another 4-5 mph. Though he also has a quality slider and changeup, giving him the three pitches he would need to work as a starter, Graham’s startling performance this spring in an end-of-game role, where he has been able to air out his fastball almost exclusively, has left little doubt in the minds of scouts that his future role is at the back end of the bullpen.

Projected Draft Position:
Compensation round / second round.

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