For Braves righthander J.R. Graham, 2012 has been a year of transition. Last year, when he was drafted in the fourth round out of Santa Clara, he pitched in 23 games for the Broncos, but only got five starts.
He got his feet wet in pro ball, ranking as the No. 8 prospect in the Appalachian League after he went 5-2, 1.72 with 52 strikeouts and 13 walks over 58 innings. He pitched in 13 games, starting eight of them.
This year, Graham was named to the Carolina League all-star team after going 8-1, 2.53 with 15 walks and 55 strikeouts over 82 innings in the first half of the year for Lynchburg.
Graham has been a starter the entire season.
"It's been pretty easy for me," Graham said of the transition. "At first, I remember going into college starting and I was like, 'Okay, I've got to be a starter. I've got to reserve myself.' And it didn't really work out for me that well. But then my coach gave me some real good advice. He said to go out there with a closer mentality and pretend like it's nine one-inning saves. I've done that ever since and I keep that closer mentality while I'm starting."
In a one-inning stint in the California-Carolina League All-Star Game, Graham sat 93-96 mph with his fastball while mixing in an 84 mph slider. Graham knows his stuff—especially his secondary stuff—still needs work.
"I'm still working on everything," Graham said. "Locating my fastball, throwing the two-seam, working on the slider and getting more consistent with that and working on the changeup. You never stop learning. It's a game of constant adjustments. If somebody tells you they've got it figured out, they're probably not going to be in the game very long."
Getting that kind of velocity out of a 6-foot, 185-pound build requires a lot of hard work. While Graham has retained mostly the same workout routine he used in college, he's also switched things up a little bit, especially after transitioning into a starter's role full-time.
"I'm still doing the same stuff—the plyometrics and the medicine balls are a big part of my workout routine," Graham said. "Those pretty much stayed the same, but I changed the leg workouts because you've got to keep the body guessing, like they say in 'Dodgeball.' "