The Indians have eight players out in Arizona participating in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), and one of the more intriguing players assigned to the prestigious offseason league is right-hander Connor Graham.Graham is a new player in the Indians organization, having been with the Indians for just over three months since being acquired from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Rafael Betancourt on July 23rd. He is still settling in with the Indians, having finished the season at Double-A Akron before coming out to Arizona to play in the AFL."Things are not going too bad," said Graham in a recent interview. "I am trying to get a little more consistent and kind of get back in the groove I was in earlier this year [at High-A Modesto]. I am kind of working through some stuff right now. The guys [have been] awesome and it is a great staff. You kind of become part of the team very quickly, so it was a pretty easy transition."Graham was part of a big influx of pitchers the Indians acquired in several July trades where they added a lot of raw, big, strong, and powerful arms to the farm system. He has a power fastball that sits around 92-95 MPH and has topped out at 97 MPH, and he complements it with a plus slider that has good hard, biting action and a changeup which is a work in progress.At 6'6" and 235 pounds Graham has impressive size to go with his impressive arsenal, but what he really needs some work on is his fastball command. He is still very much a project, and the big key into morphing himself from project to true prospect will be determined by his ability to consistently command his fastball low in the zone and to both sides of the plate."Yeah, [my fastball is my best pitch] when I am commanding it," said Graham. "That's my biggest area of improvement needed, to be able to command the fastball down in the zone. I think when I am doing that I can be pretty tough."Graham finished the season 8-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 24 combined starts between Akron and Modesto, and in 118.2 innings allowed 108 hits, 66 walks, and had 126 strikeouts. In six appearances out in the AFL he is 0-0 with a 7.04 ERA and in 7.2 innings has allowed 8 hits, 10 walks, and has 6 strikeouts.Graham is out in Arizona to get more work in and continue to work on his delivery and mechanics, but he is starting to show some wear. He has struggled with his command since the AFL season kicked off having walked ten batters in just 7.2 innings, most of that the result of a disastrous two thirds of an inning six walk effort back on October 15th."Right now I am kind of worn down," said Graham. "I got shut down from lifting weights and doing abs in spring training, so it is kind of catching up right now. So right now my biggest thing is getting back in shape and getting my legs under me again. I think my mechanics are being affected by that. So that's the biggest issue right now getting back into shape and getting my legs strong again."While his fastball command has come and gone, Graham's secondary pitches have been pretty consistent all season. He has also even been working on a new pitch that was added to his arsenal shortly after joining the Indians."The slider has been getting more consistent throughout this year," said Graham. "I am pretty happy with it right now. I have also been working on a splitter, and that is still a work in progress. I threw it in college and had not thrown it in a couple years, so I am working on that again."The AFL season is still only at its halfway point, so Graham is still concentrating on finishing strong there. Once the AFL season wraps up just before Thanksgiving and his offseason commences, the biggest focus for him this offseason will be to work on his strength and conditioning and go into spring training strong and ready to handle any role the Indians have planned for him. When the Indians acquired him from Colorado they kept him in the rotation, but it looks like next season he will be moved to the bullpen."Everything works off my fastball, so if I can get my fastball command where it needs to be I think everything else is going to fall into place too," said Graham. "So definitely my fastball command is going to be a big thing. Coming into the season in the best shape in my life is what I am most looking forward to. After the Fall League to get into the gym everyday and working hard and showing up ready to go."This Week In The AFL
Many thanks to Al Ciammaichella for writting this report on my site.It has been an interesting couple of weeks in the AFL, as the Peoria Saguaros now stand at 9-10 on the season, good enough for a 2nd place tie in the 3-team AFL West Division. More importantly, former Akron closer Vinnie Pestano has been added to the Sags roster, which is great to see after he was shut down in the middle of a great season for the Aeros.On a more depressing front, the AFL Rising Stars Showcase takes place this coming Saturday in Surprise. Why is this depressing? Of the now nine players the Indians organization has sent to the AFL, only infielder Carlos Rivero was selected to play in the Showcase. The Showcase isn't just an all-star game, as the players are selected by scouting and Minor League directors from every organization, along with input from AFL executive director Steve Cobb. So while it is great that Rivero was picked, the fact that a guy like Future's Game participant Nick Weglarz was not selected shows that some of the shine is coming off of his prospect star after a disappointing campaign in Akron. The Showcase will be carried live on MLB Network, so tune in on Saturday at 8:15 EST to check out Rivero as well as top MLB prospects like Buster Posey, Dustin Ackley, Mike Leake, Yonder Alonso and bonus baby Steven Strasburg (who is expected to start on the mound for the East squad).