Position switch lucky break for Braves pick Graham
ATLANTA -- When Josh Graham learned that the Braves had selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 MLB Draft on Tuesday, he couldn't help but wonder if he would have been drafted had he not made the conversion from catcher to pitcher this year.
As Graham prepared for this past season with the University of Oregon, he agreed to the proposal to occasionally serve as a relief pitcher. His success in that role afforded him some long-relief stints, and ultimately a chance to join the Ducks' starting rotation by the end of the season.
"I'm real excited and happy I was able to do that, because I don't know if I'd be where I'm at today without that opportunity," Graham said.
Though Graham has limited experienced as a pitcher, he impressed Braves scout Brett Evert as he displayed a fastball that reached 96 mph and a plus changeup.
Still until late last week, Graham was not aware the Braves were interested in selecting him as early as they did.
"It was kind of out of nowhere," Graham said. "I've known Evert since he scouted me in high school. It's hard to explain how everything went down. I'm at a loss for words."
Graham made just six starts for Oregon this year. In the 65 innings he compiled over 19 appearances, he posted a 2.63 ERA, notched 64 strikeouts, issued 26 walks and limited opponents to a .212 batting average.
After splitting the first two games of the best-of-three Pac 12 Championship series against UCLA last month, Oregon received much more than expected from their former catcher. Graham helped the Ducks claim an 11-inning victory by surrendering three runs and notching 11 strikeouts over nine innings -- his longest stint since his days at Roseburg (Ore.) High School.
"I think that game against UCLA was a breakout moment for me and probably one of the best games I've ever pitched," Graham said.
Given that he has been described as a no-nonsense, hard-nosed player, it seemed fitting that Graham said former Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and former Braves catcher Evan Gattis are two of his favorite players.
"Even before I started pitching, I liked watching Kimbrel's attitude on the mound," Graham said. "Kimbrel and Gattis were two players I really watched. I love the way they played the game, especially Kimbrel. He's the kind of guy I look up to or try to get things from just from watching him play."