Braves' Graham Finishes Year Strong In Double-A

Best Player: Center fielder Todd Cunningham blossomed into the all-around player the Braves envisioned when they selected the Jacksonville State product in the second round of the 2010 draft. After battling injuries last year, the 23-year-old switch-hitter batted .309/.364/.403 with 23 doubles in 466 at-bats this season with Double-A Mississippi.

Cunningham uses his above-average speed in all phases of the game—he swiped 24 bases in 32 tries—and showed steady improvement on defense.

Best Pitcher: Righthander J.R. Graham improved more dramatically than any pitcher in the system. The 2011 fourth-rounder from Santa Clara dominated at high Class A Lynchburg in the first half by going 9-1, 2.63 in 17 starts before making the jump to Mississippi in July. He overcame a couple of rough outings to go 3-1, 2.73 with 26 strikeouts and eight walks in 26 August innings.

Graham pitches bigger than his 6-foot stature, showing excellent athleticism and a strong arm that generates mid-90s velocity and a sharp mid-80s slider. Continued development of his changeup could determine whether he starts or relieves in the big leagues.

Keep An Eye On: The Braves' organizational depth at shortstop extends deeper than big leaguers Paul Janish, Tyler Pastornicky and rookie starter Andrelton Simmons.

Nick Ahmed, a second-round pick in 2011 out of Connecticut, put together a strong first full season at Lynchburg, batting .269/.337/.391 in 506 at-bats. He led the Carolina League in stolen bases (40) and runs (84) while tying for the lead with 36 doubles. An excellent bunter and strong fundamental defensive player, Ahmed projects to do everything but hit for home run power.


• On the heels of an unproductive first half in Lynchburg, left fielder Robby Hefflinger batted .300/.373/.517 with 11 homers in 230 at-bats in the second half following a demotion to low Class A Rome. He won three South Atlantic League hitter-of-the-week awards and helped Rome finish first in the Southern Division during the second half.

• Ahmed will join catcher Matt Kennelly, third baseman Edward Salcedo and righthanders Cory Rasmus, Gus Schlosser and Zeke Spruill in the Arizona Fall League. Mississippi manager Aaron Holbert will serve as skipper for Phoenix.