J.R. Graham recently was drafted in the third round of an expert league dynasty league I participate in. While that sounds early, consider that each of the 20 teams has 28 keepers, so a majority of the top 100 prospects were already owned and kept before the draft. Regardless, I feel silly for not taking him earlier, though I only had a first round pick and had a glaring need at second base – along with a number of prospects in the high minors. I had him pegged with my third round pick, but he went before I had the opportunity to grab him – my second round pick was traded before the draft. I have a pretty good feeling the owner who drafted him is going to feel great about that pick throughout Graham’s progression through the upper minors and into his time as a major leaguer.
The 6”0 2011 fourth round draft pick has been hitting the upper nineties all spring in Braves camp, and squeaked his way onto the Baseball America top 100 at number 93 after his first full professional season. While his stuff plays like a late inning reliever, he made no appearances in relief last season as he posted a 2.80 ERA and 3.24 K/BB ratio across high-A Lynchburg and double-A Mississippi. With his dominant fastball, he could easily be a major league reliever right now, but the Braves are set on seeing how far he can go as a starter before having to make that decision.
While the Braves were known last year for having a plethora of starting pitching depth, that depth has evaporated quite quickly. The team has their five starters and triple-A prospect Sean Gilmartin pegged as the sixth man until Brandon Beachy returns. After those six starters, Graham and former Mexican Leaguer Daniel Rodriguez are the next men up. Atlanta used 10 starting pitchers last year, so there is a more than decent chance that Graham sees time in the rotation at some point this year, and with a solid year he could see himself enter the rotation as Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm finish their option years and open up two rotation spots.
Is it certain that he has that good of a year? No, but he is already in the upper minors and has impressed the front office and major league club — which is definitely a good start. With his floor being a late inning major league reliever and Craig Kimbrel set to see some astronomical arbitration numbers on a team that has one of the worst TV deals in all of baseball, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Graham takes over the closer role in the coming years if he does not pan out as a starter. Having that fall back provides some security for those in dynasty leagues with spots to fill, and Graham’s upside, protected downside, and the potential openings in the rotation make him a very interesting pitcher for deep league roto players on draft day. You may not regret drafting him this season, but there is certainly a good chance you do in the next few years. Don’t make the same mistake I did, draft him while you still can.