FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
LAWRENCE, Kan. – In an important decision for the future of the Kansas baseball program, Head Coach Ritch Price announced Friday that long-time assistant coach Ryan Graves has been elevated to the position of Associate Head Coach effective immediately. Graves will continue to coordinate the Kansas pitching staff and also be the position coach for the team’s catchers.
“We’re promoting Coach Graves to Associate Head Coach to reward him for his commitment, loyalty and the success of our pitching staff,” Price said. “Ryan has a proven track record of preparing players to succeed at both the collegiate as well as the professional level. He plays an extremely important role in keeping our program at the Top 25 level.”
Graves is entering his ninth season at Kansas and his 12th overall under Price. The 2011 season will be Graves’ sixth as the team’s pitching coach after working with the team’s catchers and serving as the recruiting coordinator during his first three seasons at KU.
The former All-Big Eight standout has helped the Jayhawks pitching staff post an ERA below 5.00 in three of his first five seasons on the job. This included the 2009 staff, which recorded a 4.46 team ERA – the lowest total in the last 15 years. Last season, despite missing key pitchers due to injury, Graves’ staff helped the Jayhawks return to the Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City for the second-straight season.
Since 2006, Graves has had 13 pitchers either drafted or sign professional contracts with Major League organizations, including four last season – Travis Blankenship, Brett Bochy, Cameron Selik and T.J. Walz.
In 2006, under Graves’ tutelage, relief pitcher Don Czyz earned National Stopper of the Year as well as All-America honors. Czyz posted a school-record 19 saves and recorded six wins out of the bullpen to help the Jayhawks win their first Big 12 Championship – the first conference title for over 50 years. In addition to Czyz, senior Kodiak Quick finished the 2006 season with a school record 11 victories.
In 2009, Graves’ pitching staff was led by senior Paul Smyth and junior Shaeffer Hall. Smyth recorded nine saves during the spring and was named the Minor League Baseball Short Season Pitcher of the Year after his first in the Oakland Athletics’ organization. During his first year of professional baseball, Smyth did not allow an earned run and recorded 37 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings with the Kane County Cougars.
Hall tossed the fifth individual no-hitter in team history during the 2009 season, and was drafted by the New York Yankees’ organization following his junior year.
Last season, Graves helped three different Jayhawks earn Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors, including closer Brett Bochy. Bochy recorded two saves in KU’s series win at No. 1 LSU and also tossed six perfect innings out of the bullpen in a series-clinching, 14-inning game at Baylor. The junior missed the second half of the season following Tommy John surgery. Prior to Bochy’s injury, KU was ranked as high as No. 19 in the country in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll.
This season, Graves’ staff will be anchored by senior T.J. Walz, junior Colton Murray and sophomore Tanner Poppe. Walz is one of the most decorated pitchers in Kansas baseball history – earning Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors three times in his career, as well as pitching for the U.S. National team during the summer of 2009. Walz is on pace to break four KU career records this season. Murray was named a Top 25 prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer, while Poppe spent his summer in the Cape Cod League and projects to be an early selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft.
KU has signed three outstanding pitchers to letters of intent for next season, including Lawrence product Cody Kukuk, who was named the No. 3 high school player in Kansas last season, Wes Benjamin and Robert Kahana. Benjamin is one of the top pitchers out of the state of Illinois, while Kahana is also a top-rated prospect out of Hawaii.
“Ryan Graves has been a tremendous asset to the baseball program the last nine years,” Kansas Interim Athletic Director Sean Lester said. “The numbers and the honors speak for themselves. We felt he deserved this promotion as a reward for his success and loyalty to the program.”
Graves had an outstanding playing career, pitching at Loyola Marymount as well as Oklahoma State. During his one season at OSU, he helped the Cowboys reach the 1996 College World Series by posting 10 victories as well as 104 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings on the hill. Graves also pitched for two years in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league organization – reaching Double-A Orlando in 1997.
Graves, a 1997 graduate of Oklahoma State, resides in Lawrence with his wife Lisa and sons Kyle Matthew and Benjamin James.