Notes: Harrison gets the call

Notes: Harrison gets call in exhibition opener

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After announcing Sunday morning that Matt Harrison would start Wednesday's exhibition season opener against Georgia Tech, Braves manager Bobby Cox had an opportunity to gain further appreciation for the young left-handed pitcher.

"He was exceptionally good," Cox said after Harrison impressed him during Sunday afternoon's workout at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.

Since drafting the 6-foot-4 Harrison in the third round of the 2003 draft, the Braves have thought they had something special. But the 21-year-old left-hander really impressed while registering 114 strikeouts and issuing just 33 walks in the 158 2/3 innings he combined for with Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi last year.

"For a young lefty that big, he doesn't walk anybody," Cox said. "I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch on Wednesday."

Traditionally, the Braves use their top Minor League pitching prospect to start the exhibition game opener, which is annually played against either Georgia Tech or Georgia.

Harrison, who compliments his 90 mph fastball with a good changeup and improving curveball, fits this bill. Last year, he was given the Phil Niekro Award, annually given to the club's top Minor League pitcher.

"I'm excited and a little bit nervous pitching the first game in big-league camp. I'm kind of surprised that I'm even starting the game. Hopefully, I can stay under control and not get too nervous."

Also pitching in Wednesday's game will be Jose Ascanio, Kevin Barry, Anthony Lerew, Jonathan Johnson and Joey Devine. Harrison, Ascanio and Barry are each scheduled to work two innings.

Cox plans to use all of his starting position players in the exhibition opener. They will all get one or two at-bats.

Further praise of Escobar: After taking time on Saturday to comment on the good attitude that Yunel Escobar has been displaying, Cox spent some time on Sunday gushing about what he'd just seen while watching the talented shortstop.

"Escobar is the real deal," Cox said. "He hit the [heck] out of the ball today."

Escobar, who defected from Cuba in 2004, impressed Cox both with his potent bat and versatile defensive skills. The 24 year-old prospect has been getting work at second base, shortstop and third base.

According to a former team official, Escobar wasn't willing to play second base last year, fearing that he could be injured while turning double plays. Had this not been the case, he may have come to camp as a candidate to be the starting second baseman, a role currently targeted for Kelly Johnson.

"He's got a lot of energy," Cox said. "He's not a blazer. But he's quick as a cat."

While playing at Mississippi last year, Escobar hit just .264 with two homers and seven stolen bases (16 attempts). But he drew some trade interest from other teams while hitting .407 and compiling a .463 on-base percentage in 22 games during the Arizona Fall League.

"Everybody in the world wants him right now," Cox said.

The Mighty Thor: Because he possesses a violent left-handed swing, Scott Thorman is drawing some comparisons to Ryan Klesko. Cox agrees with the comparisons. But at the same time, he says that Thorman doesn't grunt like Klesko did at the end of his swing.

"[Thorman] is crushing the ball," Cox said. "Vicious swing. He might have the hardest swing in baseball right now."

Thorman, who is projected to be used as the club's everyday first baseman, combined for 20 homers while totaling 437 at-bats with Triple-A Richmond and Atlanta last year. In his 309 at-bats with Richmond, he produced a .508 slugging percentage.

Baby-face Lillibridge: At first look, it's hard to imagine that the guy wearing the Braves jersey with 74 on the back is the same guy who produced some rather impressive stats at the Minor League level last year.

But throughout his life, Brent Lillibridge has been fooling people with his looks. Despite looking like a young teenager, who could easily be mistaken as a bat boy, he still managed to hit .305 and record 53 stolen bases in 128 games at the Class A level last year.

"I'm 23 and I'm looking 18," Lillibridge said. "I'm OK with that. It will pay off for me when I'm 40 years old."

Lillibridge, who was acquired in the January trade that sent Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh, was the only Minor Leaguer last year to hit at least .300 with 10 home runs, 50 RBIs, 50 stolen bases, and a .400 on-base percentage.

Braves bits: Cox opted to wait until Monday to announce his starting rotation for the upcoming Grapefruit League season. ... Willy Aybar still hasn't reported to camp. But it's believed his visa problems will be resolved in time for him to arrive some time this week. ... With physicals out of the way, workouts will once again begin at 10 a.m. on Monday.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.