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Diamonds in Single A: Connor Graham

July 27, 2009
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This week’s Diamonds in Single A will focus on a player who hopefully never plays an inning with the Indians single A farm teams. This week will focus on the newest Indian, Connor Graham. The Indians have stated that Graham will report to Akron, which will be his first time above A ball. So, for the time being he is still eligible for this column. He was acquired this week when the Indians traded Raffie Betancourt to Colorado.

Connor Graham is a 6’6” pitcher originally from Bowling Green, Ohio. He went to Miami of Ohio University, and was a 5th round pick of the Rockies in 2007. This continues a trend we have seen of the Indians acquiring players like Joe Smith and Shawn Nottingham, where pitchers with Ohio ties who the Indians are familiar with are eventually brought into the system via trades. He was rated 12th best prospect in Colorado’s system by baseball America and 5th best by John Sickles.

Graham throws in the low to mid 90’s and can occasionally hit 96 on the gun. His best pitch is his fastball, which has some real life in it and projects as a plus pitch. He also has an excellent slider which projects as a plus pitch, but he has had some control issues with it. He is working on developing a third pitch, and it will be that pitch that decides if he will project out as a starter or a reliever in the future. Let’s take a look at his stats:

Year Level WHIP SO/9 BB/9 ERA H/9 HR/9 SO/BB AVG
2008 A- 1.24 8.4 5.1 2.26 6 .2 1.66 .192
2009 A+ 1.36 9.7 4.6 3.14 7.6 .2 2.12 .231

For anyone who has read about this deal, it is clear to see why the control issue is talked about so much with Graham. If Graham could drastically improve his walk rate, his stats show him as a potential front of the line starter. Even with the bad walk rate his WHIPs are still excellent for a starter. This is due to the fact that his stuff is so good it’s extremely hard to get a hit off him. His walk rate is about double what you would want in a pitcher; it takes a rare pitcher like Tim Linecum who can succeed with a walk rate over 3.

There are, though, a lot of positives with this data, in particular his very low HR rate. Of the pitchers that I have discussed in the column this year, Graham has the best HR rate of them all. He has consistently been able to keep the ball in the park. I am sure this ability was one of the reasons Colorado drafted him in the first place. Another positive is his excellent WHIP’s. These show that, in spite of bad control—last year he lead the SAL league in walks—, he was still able to keep players off the bases and pitch effectively. His ERA’s have stayed low, and when players do get on, he doesn’t give up the long ball. This in turn means that he is not prone to the big inning. He has posted very good strike out rates, which would undoubtedly turn to excellent strike out rates if he could only hone his control a bit.

My final thoughts on Connor Graham are that I like the addition to this team, but I believe he should be moved back to the pen, which is where he pitched in college. Instead of focusing on a third pitch, Graham would be best served honing his slider and fastball, which could become two plus pitches. When you add in how he keeps the ball in the park, along with his strike out ability, Graham could project as a back of the bullpen type pitcher.

It’s been interesting to see the Indians’ moves this season. It is obvious that Shapiro is tired of the pen issues and seems to be targeting players who can help the pen. They added Chris Perez from St. Louis and, if rumors are true, another reliever, Jess Todd, will be the PTBNL in that deal. They drafted Alex White and then talked about moving him to the pen. Connor Graham is yet another who seems to project as a player who can help the Indians’ bullpen troubles in the future.

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