Former All-Big Eight pitcher and Oklahoma State graduate Ryan Graves enters his 17th season as an assistant coach under Ritch Price and 13th as the team’s pitching coach. Graves is in charge of developing KU’s pitching corps and also works with the squad’s catchers.
Prior to the 2011 season, Graves was promoted to Associate Head Coach, making him the only baseball coach in the Big 12 to hold that title at the time. Graves came to Kansas with Price in 2003 and served as the team’s volunteer assistant for three seasons before becoming a full-time assistant coach in 2006.
His ability to develop pitchers into All-Big 12 contenders and future Major League Baseball (MLB) draft picks has enabled the Jayhawks to see success during his tenure as KU’s pitching guru. Under his tutelage, Graves has coached two Big 12 Newcomers of the Year in Ben Krauth (2015) and Jordan Piche’ (2013), and has seen 40 of his pitchers continue on to play professional baseball.
Since Graves took charge of the pitching staff, the Jayhawks have seen an average of three hurlers get drafted per season, with 2018 showcasing Jackson Goddard (99th overall) and Zack Leban (13th round) being selected. In addition to the draftees, sophomore Ryan Zeferjahn eclipsed the 100-strikeout mark in 14 starts made.
Two thousand and seventeen reassured Graves of his ability to develop pitchers when Blake Weiman (8th) and Stephen Villines (10th) were picked in the top-10 rounds of the MLB Draft. Villines finished a stellar career as KU’s all-time saves leader with a career total of 40 to his name and was an All-Big 12 First Team selection. Weiman took on a new role as a set-up man where he flourished into one of the most dominant bullpen arms in the Big 12, striking out 55 batters in 45 innings of relief.
Krauth turned in a stellar 2016 season as he pitched his way to All-Big 12 First Team honors after a 5-6 overall record. His numbers were impressive as the lefty struck out 103 batters, the first Jayhawk to do so since 2012, and registered a 5-3 conference record. Krauth also averaged six and 1/3 innings per start, tossing seven or more frames in seven of his 15 starts, including a complete-game shutout against North Dakota. Krauth went on to be drafted in the 16th round by the Cleveland Indians.
Graves’ capabilities as a coach were never more tested than in 2014 after Friday night ace Wes Benjamin’s season was cut short with Tommy John surgery and he was left to fill a void created by the loss of the southpaw.
Not an issue for a coach who has built a strong resume that spans 22 years as an assistant coach. Graves took 2013 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and all-conference closer Jordan Piche’ and groomed him into an all-league starting pitcher that solidified the Jayhawks’ weekend rotation and paced Kansas to its fifth NCAA Tournament berth.
Moving Piche’ to the starting rotation, Graves quickly helped with the transformation of freshman side-armer Stephen Villines to the closing role where he picked up a freshman-record eight saves en route to All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, All-Big 12 Freshman Team and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Freshman All-American honors.
Graves’ efforts in 2014 saw four hurlers drafted in the MLB Amateur Draft in June, as Benjamin (Texas / fifth round), Duncan (Pittsburgh / 13th round), Piche’ (L.A. Angels / 28th round) and Robert Kahana (Houston / 32nd) were all selected.
As a staff in 2013, the Jayhawks posted a team ERA of 3.45 – the lowest in nearly 20 years. Under Graves’ direction, two pitchers saw recognition from the Big 12, as Piche’ was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and found a spot on the All-Big 12 First Team, while starter Thomas Taylor was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. Piche’ also found himself on the Big 12 All-Tournament Team.
Three hurlers also heard their names called in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft in June, as Taylor (L.A. Angels / 26th round), Tanner Poppe (Milwaukee / 31st round) and Duncan (Cleveland / 39th round) were all selected.
Graves’ pitching staff enjoyed tremendous success in 2012 as Duncan and Benjamin both earned All-Big 12 honors. The Jayhawks’ pitching staff posted a team ERA of 4.35 – the second lowest in Graves’ tenure. Duncan struck out 100 batters in 111 and 1/3 innings on the season, becoming just the fifth Jayhawk pitcher to amass triple digits in K’s.
The Jayhawks’ starting staff carried the team down the stretch as Benjamin and Duncan tossed complete-game shutouts in back-to-back weekends against Kansas State and Missouri, which helped KU clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship.
During his tenure as the team’s pitching coach, Graves has helped 40 of his pitchers get drafted or sign with major league organizations, with Sam Freeman, Brett Bochy and Colton Murray all making it to the big leagues.
In 2006, Graves coached a pitching staff which included National College Baseball Writers’ Association Stopper of the Year Don Czyz, as well as MLB Draft picks Kodiak Quick and Sean Land. Czyz became KU’s first All-American since 1996, leading the NCAA in saves with 19.
Graves and his wife Lisa reside in Lawrence. The couple has two sons, Kyle Matthew and Benjamin James.
|The Hood File|
|Position||Volunteer Assistant Coach|
|Alma Mater||South Dakota State, 2011|
|South Dakota State (SA)||2011-12|
|By the Numbers|
|2014 Outfield Fielding Percentage||.993|
|Percent of offensive production from outfielders in 2014||49%|