The Braves honored their minor league pitchers and players of the year before Saturday’s game at Turner Field, giving Braves fans a chance to put faces with names and numbers.
For J.R. Graham, organizational pitcher of the year, it was a chance to catch a glimpse of his favorite player growing up in the Bay Area in northern California – Tim Hudson.
“I remember telling my dad he was somebody I wanted to be like,” Graham said. “To be playing in the organization he’s in, and I get a chance to see him and meet him, it’s pretty awesome.”
Graham, a fourth round pick by the Braves in 2011, was a closer at Santa Clara University. He still has the dominant fastball associated with that job, with a four-seamer clocked at 95-98 mph, but he said he has used this season to develop his offspeed pitches as well.
Graham went 12-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 26 starts this season for Single-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi. He struck out 110 and walked only 34 in 148 innings at the two levels combined.
“(In Double-A) I really had to start focusing on working on stuff that I wasn’t the most comfortable working on,” Graham said. “My change-up wasn’t coming along, but in Double-A, I was going to need to throw it.”
For outfielder Todd Cunningham, honored as the Braves organizational player of the year, this season was a chance to rebound after a strained elbow ligament cost him six weeks of the 2011 season.
The second round pick from Jacksonville State in 2010 hit .309 (144-for-466) in 120 games for Double-A Mississippi, with 23 doubles, six triples, three home runs, 51 RBIs and 24 steals.
Cunningham can play all three outfield positions but spent most of this season playing center field. He said he took some confidence playing in the Arizona Fall League last October, especially after seeing Surprise, Ariz. teammates like Mike Olt rise to the majors this season with the Rangers.
“It’s kind of that Eureka moment where you’re like I played against those guys and with those guys and you turn on the TV on the bus or in the locker room and they’re playing,” Cunningham said. “…It makes it that much more real, instead of being that far off fantasy type of deal.”
Cunningham will play winter ball in Mexico this year.
The Braves minor league pitchers and players of the year at each level were (respectively): Cory Gearrin, Ernesto Mejia (Triple-A Gwinnett); Sean Gilmartin, Joe Leonard (Double-A Mississippi); Gus Schlosser, Nick Ahmed (high-A Lynchburg); Navery Moore, William Beckwith (low-A Rome), Mauricio Cabrera, Carlos Franco (rookie Danville), Luis Merejo, Jose Peraza (rookie Gulf Coast League), and Michael Flores, Johan Camargo (Dominican Summer League).