S- S- S- St- Stoeten doesn’t believe in me?? Wunnhmpf…
Jays fans who always keep one eye on the minors — for non-prospects even, apparently! — sure have had one interesting case to look at in recent weeks: Kendall Graveman.
Superficially, there sure is a lot to like. After starting the year in Lansing, Graveman has moved up three levels, pitching in Dunedin, New Hampshire, and just now having arrived in Buffalo, and the results have looked pretty spectacular. Across all levels he has an ERA of 1.87 and a WHIP of 1.05. He’s held opponents to a .232/.274/.273 line.
In the last week Jays Journal has looked at his quick ascent, wondering what the rush is, and whether a cynical Alex Anthopoulos might be trying to make it appear to potential trade partners that he has more high-level prospects than he really does — which… I like this theory. Baseball Hot Corner, on the other hand, profiled him as an under-the-radar pitcher who could make some noise, which included some of my objections — not particularly subtle as they were over Twitter.
I don’t think it’s particularly clear either way what he is or will be. It never is with prospects, but I think it’s especially so in this case, since not a whole lot of evaluators writing on the web make the effort to check out guys in the low minors who were drafted in the 36th round as college juniors, then the eighth round as no-leverage seniors who accept $5,000 bonuses when the slot value for their pick is $150,000 — which is precisely Graveman’s story.
That story also makes him, at age 23, quite old to be considered a prospect in the Midwest League, where he made his first four starts of the year, posting an ERA of 0.34. In the Florida State League at Dunedin, where he made 16 starts and posted a 2.23 ERA, he was a shade below a league average for pitchers that’s inflated by rehab assignment and org. guys who still haven’t figured it out. In other words, what some — me, for example — might call the “real” prospects are guys like Dan Norris, pitching at age 21, or Roberto Osuna at 19.
On the other hand, Graveman has acquitted himself nicely in his starts above A-ball — all two of them — combining for 12 innings of 2.25 ERA, giving up eight hits, three earned, and two walks. And he was the top drafted pitcher on the 2013 Mississippi State team that went to the College World Series — which has to count for something… probably… right?
And we do have a pair of public sector eyes that have seen Graveman as a pro — Marc Hulet of FanGraphs, just over a year ago — and he actually saw the seeds of this coming (while in the same piece offering praise for Dalton Pompey!):
Graveman, 22, faced off against the 17-year-old Urias on Aug. 22. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw out of the Jays prospect. He showed a smooth, easy delivery and worked quickly. He also, perhaps more importantly, threw strikes. I saw him use three pitches: a fringe-average fastball, an inconsistent breaking ball and a solid changeup. The breaking ball was actually better than advertised and showed a nice 12-to-6 break at times from his three-quarter release point.
He could be a fast mover for the Jays and likely has the ceiling of a No. 4/5 starter or middle reliever.
See, now that sounds a whole lot more reasonable than dreams of sparkling ERAs continuing on forever! Especially since some of the underlying numbers don’t exactly scream someone who “could have an outside look of making the Jays next year,” as MLB Hot Corner’s Daniel Levitt wrote. From the excellent MLB Farm we see that his groundball rate on balls in play has been very good (60%), but his line drive rate of less than 10% isn’t exactly sustainable, nor is the one home run he’s given up on 104 flyballs. And it’s not like he’s showing a whole lot of swing-and-miss, even though he’s been advanced for the levels he’s pitched at — he was less than strikeout per nine at Lansing, and at Dunedin and beyond his K/9 rate has been below six.
If he can throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground, it’s not impossible for a pitcher to be able to have some kind of success at the highest level, I suppose, even with a fringe-average fastball. And I certainly haven’t seen him myself, or read enough about his stuff, his mechanics, his repertoire, or any of that to know whether or not anything has changed to give us more reason to believe the good and discount the bad. It’s possible. It would be great if it had. It’s just… I wouldn’t be so fast to swallow all that — certainly not as fast as the Jays have been with moving Graveman up the ladder.