In the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, the Toronto Blue Jays made a concerted push to add pitching. In fact, you could say it was a deliberate action, as the team used its first nine picks on pitchers, and 11 of its first twelve selections.
One of those many pitchers selected was Kendall Graveman, a right-hander who was fresh off a trip to the College World Series as a member of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Blue Jays used their 8th round pick on Graveman, and he was immediately assigned to the Lansing Lugnuts.
In Lansing, Kendall’s innings were carefully monitored. After throwing 113.2 innings with the Bulldogs during their CWS run, the Blue Jays wanted to be cautious with his arm and held him to just 39.2 innings in 10 appearances with the Lugnuts in 2013. It was a smooth transition for the sinker-baller, with Graveman posting a 4.31 ERA and a 5.7 K/9 ratio.
He would return to Lansing to start the 2014 season, but with no innings limitations the results were outstanding. Graveman would make just four appearances with the Lugnuts, posting a 0.34 ERA and an 8.5 K/9 ratio over 26.1 innings of work, including a near no-hitter that Graveman lost with 1-out in the 9th inning.
That performance in Lansing earned Kendall a quick promotion to Single-A Dunedin, where the results have continued to be encouraging. In three starts with the D-Jays, Graveman’s ERA sits at a cool 3.60 and he’s sported solid ratios of 1.2 BB/9 and 6.6 K/9. With Graveman’s ability to get ground balls and the solid defense of the D-Jays behind him, those numbers are likely to continue to improve.
With all that in mind, we had a chance to talk to Kendall Graveman and ask him a few questions from our staff of writers.
JJ – What do you think is the biggest difference between pitching at the college level to the minor leagues? Do you feel you gained more experience by playing college ball than you would have by jumping to pro-ball from high school?
KG – I feel it is pretty much the same timetable. We hit the maturity at the same time. The special guys mature a little quicker, but it certainly helped socially.
The minor leagues have a lot more tools that are more dialed in, stuff you see day in and day out. In college, you made up for lack of tools, but in the minor you see guys that can just do some special things that stand out.
JJ – Earlier this season, you took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. Can you explain that feeling and what you do to wrap up the nerves and try to push through it?
KG – When you are in the moment, you don’t notice it. But you know you’re throwing the ball well. You want to push through it. The one thing that amazes you if is how much of a team thing it actually is. Dickie Thon and Dawel Lugo made some great plays behind me, and they wanted it as much as I did. Hopefully I get another chance down the line.
JJ – According to the Mississippi State website, you were the first player from MSU to be named to the SEC All-Defensive team. Is fielding your position something you take pride in?
KG – It is. It is something that even in high school, playing a position helped me make up for my hitting. That’s helped me get into a better position to make a play and get outs. Every chance I get to make an out helps me succeed on the mound, whether it is with my arm or my glove. It was an honor and humbling. While I can’t throw every day, working on fielding is something I can do to prepare every day, so it was nice to be recognized for that work.
JJ – You were previously drafted by the Miami Marlins in 2012, but you chose to return to school to work on your degree and to pursue a trip to Omaha. How important was going back to you?
KG – While it was a honor to be drafted by the Marlins in 2012, I knew my heart was in returning to Mississippi State. One of the reasons I went back was to work on my degree and I’m hopefully finishing that up this offseason. The degree aspect of it, as a mechanical engineering degree, was something I wanted to go into 100%.
It was also a matter of returning to a solid team and spend more time with Butch Thompson (my pitching coach), who really helped my development. We had a special team and I knew we could make a run at Omaha, and I wanted to be a part of that.
JJ – You were an engineering major in college. If you weren’t playing baseball right now, where do you envision where you would be right now?
KG – That’s certainly what I would be doing, something with my degree. I also wanted to pursue mechanical engineering. I spoke with some sporting goods companies that were looking for mechanical engineers and could certainly consider that when my playing career is done. Some careers last 1 year, others 15, so being prepared for the next step is huge.
JJ – You got to face off against fellow Blue Jays draftee Matt Boyd in the College World Series semi-finals. Have you two had the chance to discuss those games at all?
KG – We have, quite a few times. I jab him a bit about it, but we have a good time with it. We still talk about the two teams meeting up this year and the possibility of a rematch. It was a tremendous experience playing at that level and getting to go through that with people you know. We played golf a bit this spring and talked about it more on the course.
JJ – You put a lot of sink on the ball, leading to a solid amount of ground-outs. What do you specifically to make the ball play heavier and where do you optimally locate the pitch?
KG – For me, it is just a modified two-seam grip, where my fingers are between the seams. I have to keep it down in the zone. If I get up, it flattens out a bit, mostly due to overthrowing the ball. If I stay in the high-80’s – low 90’s, I’m most successful, but if I’m higher than that, I can flatten out a bit.
JJ – Who was your favorite player growing up? Who do you model your pitching style after?
KG – For me to name a favorite player, it was John Smoltz. When the Braves had their stellar rotation (Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux), that was what I loved watching and it was huge for me. I grew up watching those guys do their thing on the mound, changing speeds, hitting spots. That’s what makes every pitcher successful and it is what I try to do when I’m on the mound.
JJ – You’ve already made the jump from Lansing to Dunedin this season. What do you feel you need to do to make the next step up to New Hampshire?
KG – It’s all about consistency. Expanding on your tools and making them more and more consistent. The more I keep it (sinker) down, the more outs I make and the more likely I’ll advance to the next level. Changing speeds and keeping guys off kilter is key as well. If I stay within myself and stay consistent, then I’ll continue to grow and move up.
JJ – You’ve been reunited with college teammate Chad Girodo in both Lansing and Dunedin and you were both chosen in back-to-back rounds. Does it make it easier transitioning to the pro game with someone you know?
KG – Especially when we first started. We took our physicals on the same day. Knowing someone helps you feel more comfortable helps make it a little less overwhelming. We room together on the road, and it helps it make it easier to make friends with other players as well, when you are associated together, almost like brothers. We’re looking for each other to succeed just as much as we’re hoping for ourselves to succeed.
Thanks go out to Kendall Graveman for being a gracious guest and a great guy to talk some baseball with. Kendall’s next start is slated for Saturday night when Dunedin takes on the Bradenton Maurauders, so be sure to wish him luck!