Player: Brett Graves
Drafted by: Oakland Athletics
DOB: 1/30/1993 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 190 pounds
Previously Drafted: 2011, 26th round by Cardinals
Missouri right-hander Brett Graves has done a fantastic job of staying under the radar leading up to the draft, at least as much as any top-100 prospect can. He was a well-known commodity when the Cardinals took him out of a Missouri high school three years ago but never drew much attention to himself after that.
He has been content to just pitch at the University of Missouri instead of being thrown around for the dog-and-pony shows that are exhibition events, and the strategy has worked masterfully.
In three years with the Tigers, Graves has become a much better pitcher. He's gone from a 6.32 ERA in 10 starts during 2012 to 3.87 this year with a career-high 64 strikeouts. It's not a dominating package, but the stuff and results are encouraging for his future prospects.
Full Scouting Report
Note: Numerical scores are on the conventional 80-point scouting scale, with the current score first and projected score second.
The major knock against Graves is his lack of size and bulk; you don't find a lot of 6'1", 190-pound right-handed starting pitchers; what he lacks in physical appearance, he more than makes up for in arm strength and speed; arm is fast and loose, though he does have long action in the back that keeps him from hitting his spots consistently; delivery works well with good push from his lower half and the arm speed to generate above-average velocity.
Graves has plus fastball velocity, sitting in the low-to-mid-90s and touching 96 mph, but the pitch plays less than that due to his size; doesn't get much plane on the ball, leaving it up in the zone too often; too straight, which doesn't help the lack of downhill plane; has proved capable of living up in the zone, though it lowers his ceiling because advanced hitters will take him deep.
The slider is getting more consistent with each passing year, though it's still not where it needs to be for advanced hitters to respect it; good velocity, often in the low 80s, and has some sharp tilt; struggles when he doesn't get around on it, leading to a slurvy pitch that looks fat to the hitter.
Another pitch lacking in consistency, Graves' changeup has the makings of a solid-average offering; has the feel and confidence in it, which isn't always the case for pitchers who can get away with using a fastball-breaking ball combination; makes good use of the arm speed to deceive hitters and hides the pitch well, even getting some fade on it when the command is working; will come in too firm, looking like a fat batting-practice fastball.
The control is getting better for Graves, who has a better than 3-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks for the first time this season; is still susceptible to leaving the fastball up where it can be hit out, and the slider isn't as advanced as it needs to be against advanced hitters; works well around the zone but struggles to spot the ball while in there; throws plenty of strikes and has a solid delivery to project above-average control.
Graves' command profile will never be better than average, which is what happens when you live up in the zone; inability to consistently repeat his arm action leaves his fastball all over the place, though he's gotten better at locating it this year; slider and changeup are still developing, and once they get consistent, he's going to have average command.
MLB Player Comparison: Miguel Gonzalez
Like Miguel Gonzalez, Graves is an undersized right-hander who will have to live up in the zone to succeed. Even though he has added more muscle in college, he's also battling arm angle and command issues that limit the ceiling for his solid-average stuff. But he's proved to be a pitcher who can eat a lot of innings and get big outs when needed, similar to how the Orioles use Gonzalez.
Projection: No. 4 starter in first-division rotation
MLB ETA: 2017
Chances of Signing: 85 percent
Graves seems like the kind of pitcher that teams will covet because they may be able to get him at an under-slot deal. It's just speculation, but his leverage might go away if he returns to school for another year, and the impressive performance he's put together this season would mean nothing when scouts can analyze him for another season. When you have a limited ceiling, it's best to strike while the iron is hot.