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Graham helping Orioles succeed in player development

Will receive Sheldon 'Chief' Bender Award at upcoming Winter Meetings

BALTIMORE -- Brian Graham makes it clear he has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

Graham, who has 32 years of experience in professional baseball, has taken on increasing responsibility in the Orioles organization in his new role as director of player development, and was also honored by the industry as this year's Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award winner.

The award is presented to an individual with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development, and will be handed out at the upcoming Winter Meetings.

"I feel fortunate, and I'm very excited," Graham said of the direction the Orioles are headed. "I'm excited with what the future offers, I'm excited with what we are able to do up to this point.

"It's a different approach than when I got here six years ago. It's night and day because the leadership is different, the approach to player development is different. Our approach now is 100 percent dedicated to making hitters better individually, our pitchers better individually, our fielders better individually."

Right now, Graham is looking over lists to prepare for the Rule 5 Draft -- the Orioles have selected someone the last two years and plan to again -- and preparing to host Thanksgiving dinner, where his whole family will gather at its Cranberry Township home, just north of Pittsburgh.

"Everyone is here for Thanksgiving," said Graham, who has two children in college and one in sixth grade. "Turkey is about a six-day meal. I can eat turkey for six days."

In between leftovers, Graham will pore over prospect sheets and Minor League free agents to look for potential fits in the Orioles organization. As director of player development, he has a hand in helping executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette make signings and oversees every affiliate's on-field staff. Director of Minor League operations Kent Qualls handles the administrative side of things, while Graham also works in conjunction with Duquette in making out Minor League rosters and deciding to move guys up and down during the season.

"The really important parts of my job remain the same, the teaching, coaching and instructing," said Graham who worked with then-shortstop Manny Machado -- among others -- in Double-A to help the youngster make the transition to playing third base for the O's.

"The addition of making player moves and the staff reporting to me is the biggest change."

It's a well-earned promotion for Graham, one of the most well-liked men in the organization and a baseball lifer who is universally respected around the game. Before joining the Orioles front office for a second stint in 2008, Graham worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2002-07 as their senior director of player development, with 54 homegrown players reaching the Majors over that span. He served as the Pirates' interim general manager in '07 and had a brief stint as the field coordinator for the Florida Marlins prior to that. Graham was also a Major League coach with the Cleveland Indians (1998-99), and managed nine consecutive winning clubs, including eight straight playoff ones, during his time as a Minor League skipper in the Indians' system.

"He's an educator at heart and he's very passionate about player development, so he understands the process," said Duquette, who promoted Graham last year to director of player development. "He's very disciplined in his work and we're real glad he's with the Orioles.

"That [Bender Award] goes to honor the person who has distinguished themselves not only in quantity but quality. He has a high standard, and he's a good educator and a good communicator."

Graham will be busy in Orlando, Fla., next month, with the Rule 5 Draft conducted on the final day of the Winter Meetings and as part of the board room as Baltimore tries to swing a trade and sign a few players that will impact the big league club. The O's can't outspend a lot of their opponents, but they can offer an opportunity, a 40-man roster spot -- which they've done several times already this winter -- that helps give them an edge in pursuing some of the players on the fringe. These smaller signings don't command a lot of publicity, but adding depth is a vital component for an organization that averaged more roster moves than games played in 2012.

So is turning the attention back to the Minor League system, a facet of baseball the Orioles struggled with for a long time.

"[Manager] Buck Showalter is so player development-oriented and Dan Duquette puts such a huge emphasis on player development, it's just a gigantic help to me. It's terrific and it resonates through the organization," Graham said. "It's not always the case. We all work very closely. Buck wants to know who is playing second base in [Class A] Frederick and what the rotation is in Delmarva. He cares and so does Dan. And it's great. Players understand now the emphasis being put on the Minors."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
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