A day in the life of Brian Graham
Bucs' director of player development has full plate
BRADENTON, Fla. -- His day starts at 6 a.m. It usually doesn't end until every minor league player -- and that's something, considering the Pittsburgh Pirates have somewhere in the neighborhood 160 or so youngsters in Bradenton -- has returned to camp from away games.
He is part administrator, part talent evaluator, part counselor, part cheerleader. For Brian Graham, the director of player development for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it's all in a day's work.
Graham recently gave MLB.com full access to the minor league complex at Pirate City in Bradenton, allowing an inside look into staff meetings, one-on-one conversations with players and how the daily routine and decision-making during the spring helps shape the future of the Pirates' organization.
8 a.m.: Staff meeting
Graham's day actually began two hours earlier. Six is the only quiet time all day, affording the farm director the time to do the necessary paperwork each day. It's one of the less glamorous parts of the job, but at least he gets it out of the way early.
At 8, the coaching staffs of each Pirates affiliate gather with Graham and all of his minor league coordinators. Much of the meeting deals with logistics, but the most important item of the day is that the rosters are going to be posted that day. It's not the final rosters, but Graham wants the players "to start adjusting to where they're going to go."
At the start of spring, there were about 35 guys whose destination was going to largely be determined by how their spring went, as well as how any filter down from the big league club affected the numbers of each roster. Graham doesn't want some of these players to see the roster changes on a piece of paper on the wall, and will talk to each of them individually.
"I hated seeing my name on the board like that," says Graham, who made it to Double-A as a player.
Graham gets to chat with a few of these players before the 9 a.m. meeting with the entire camp. Some of them will not be receiving the assignments they hoped for.
"You're not going to be real excited about this, but we're going to leave you here," Graham tells one pitcher. "You have to get your delivery down. We know you have a great arm. We like you a lot. But you need to take a step back and take a deep breath. We know you can throw hard. Forget about that. Concentrate on throwing stikes. If you pitch well, you'll get the heck out of here."
There's more bad news to deliver.
"You're going to be in the rotation at Double-A," Graham informs another pitcher. "I know that's not going to make you happy. But the numbers from big league camp are filtering down. Pitch your [butt] off to get to the big leagues. That's your goal anyway. We like you. We think you can pitch."
Finally, he talks to a young Dominican pitcher he suspects has been trying to pitch through an elbow injury.
"Tell him he has a job," Graham instructs someone to translate. "Tell him not to pitch throuh an injury just to make the Triple-A club. Slow down. We know he's pitching through an injury."
The pitcher admits it, and they end up shutting him down for 7-to-10 days because of an elbow strain.
Graham confided later he knows the pitcher needs the money and is afraid he won't make a club, so he was trying to pitch through the elbow ailment.
The one thing consistent throughout all of these one-on-ones is that Graham manages to handle even bad news in a very positive way.
"You have to find a positive side. This is their future," he says.
9 a.m.: Addressing the troops
Before the players hit the field for morning workouts, Graham addresses them, going over everything from being fined if they drive by themselves to their affiliates to the upcoming roster postings.
"Where you start is not where you have to finish."
Throughout all of this, the staff meeting, the one-on-ones with players and the group huddle with the players, there is always one man standing alongside Graham. Jeff Banister is the Pirates' minor league field coordinator. Bany, as he is known to just about everyone in the organization, spends most of the season on the road acting as Graham's eyes and ears at every affiliate.
"Bany is my right-hand man. He's an extension of me," Graham explained. "My job takes me into the office once the season starts. Bany's always on top of the clubs. During the season, he's in uniform and I'm not. He throws [batting practice], sits in the dugout. Players are more likely to open up to him as a result."
Graham raves about his group of coordinators, including Gary Ruby, the pitching instructor who's been with Graham for many years, Gary Redus, the outfield and baserunning instructor, and Jeff Manto, the hitting instructor. The biggest thing all mention in terms of working with each other is a lack of ego.
"Our staff has great work ethic and knowledge of the game, but it's the communication with the players that make them special," Graham said.
"We put egos aside," Banister said. "If somebody sees something in another area that can make things better, we want to make the players better. For us to be stubborn, that would be non-productive. Am I not going to listen to a guy who's been in the game as long as Jeff Manto?"
9:45 a.m.: The tryout
A recently released pitcher, a 21-year-old right-hander, comes to try out. Graham likes his arm, but he's not so sure about his conditioning: "Good arm, bad body."
He has a series of discussions about pitching, including peppering Altoona Curve pitching coach Jeff Andrews with questions about which lefty Pirates prospect he likes, asking Andrews to compare Zach Duke, Sean Burnett and Paul Maholm. No one wins the debate, it's more of a fact-finding mission.
While watching the released player work out, talk turns to how to properly release a young player.
"It's got to be done with sensitivity," Graham says. "You're not just releasing the player, you're releasing his mom and dad, his friends, his hometown. I try to keep that in mind when I have to give someone a release.
"I tell them why I think they won't be big leaguers. That way, if they go on and become big leaguers, they've proved me wrong. Good for them. I can live with that."
"In three years here, every single player we've released has thanked us for his time here," Banister adds. "I attribute that to the honesty and the way we run camp. We give every player an opportunity to compete."
The Pirates manage to do that with a finely tuned schedule that maximizes the teaching and learning and minimizes the waiting, which is crucial when you have as many players as Pittsburgh has in camp.
"It takes hours of looking at it, seeing what works," Banister says. "We're fortunate to have five fields, six cages, bullpens. We have a lot of area to use. It comes from what you carry with you from other people, and you inject your own ideas.
"I hate the standing around time, so we try to eliminate it. We get more reps and better quality of work. It's unique, we go straight through and then we're done by lunch."
Before grub time, it's hitting time, with every player in camp that day for a home game getting a turn in the cage. One of the favorites to watch, of course, is the Pirates' No. 1 pick from last year's draft, Neil Walker, who has soaked up a tremendous amount in his first Spring Training.
"It's a whole new experience, I didn't know what to expect," Walker explains. "In big league camp, it was easier, they made it easy for me. The jump back to minor league camp was different, with all these players here. I'm happy with how Spring Training went, but I'm ready to get going.
Even for a newbie like Walker, it's clear that the tone of the camp filters down from the man at the top.
"Brian is such a personable guy," Walker said. "He's easy to work with. It seems no one has any problems with him."
Graham, meanwhile, has his own problems to deal with. When making personnel decisions, a farm director has to keep reminding himself to trust his gut when it comes to a player's future.
"The toughest decision is when a guy has a great spring, but you know he's not a very good player," Graham says while watching such a player take BP. "That's when you have to trust your instincts and not let a good Spring Training affect a baseball decision."
12 p.m.: Lunch
While the staff and players head inside for lunch, Graham heads to the cage to work with a very special prospect, his 12-year-old son Jack. He's got a nice swing from the right side of the plate. Look for him in the 2011 draft.
1 p.m.: Game time
With all the morning work out of the way, it's time for Graham's troops to put into action what they've been practicing all spring. Graham and his coordinators climb to the top of a tower that's right in the middle of four fields.
On this day, there are three games going on -- two against affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles and one intrasquad game with the Pirates leftovers. Somehow, Graham manages to keep tabs on all three.
Within an inning, he notes how one catcher is moving too much behind the plate, possibly tipping a hitter off about the location of the coming pitch. Then he notices the footwork of a first baseman while holding a runner.
Banister heads down from the tower to discuss the issue with the first baseman, who can be seen trying to fix it in the next inning. It's this ability to see so much that Graham's second-in-command thinks makes him so valuable.
"He has such a vision of what's going on and processes information really fast," Banister says. "That's what's made him successful.
"It's been extremely educational for me. I've learned as much about organizing and managing people as I have anywhere. It's opened my eyes to a different teaching process. That's refreshing because this is my 20th year in the organization."
And, just in case Banister -- or anyone else -- missed anything, they can count on Graham being back at it by 6 a.m. the next morning.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.