LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- During his first big league Spring Training, highly touted pitching prospect J.R. Graham has had the pleasure of spending time with his childhood idol, Tim Hudson. In fact, he has already informed Hudson that they actually encountered each other many years ago.
As Hudson was exiting the bullpen before a start he made for the A's in Oakland, he tossed a baseball toward a then-9-year-old Graham, who still has the ball at his parents' home, which is located about 30 minutes east of Oakland.
Graham was initially hesitant to tell Hudson of the event that occurred during Hudson's 1999 rookie season.
"I didn't want to tell him at first, but the first day I saw him as we were walking back to the back fields, I said, 'Hey, I was a pretty big fan of yours when I was nine,'" Graham said. "It was pretty cool. I had to get my fan out. He was totally cool about it."
After being reminded that he is now the old man in the clubhouse, the 37-year-old Hudson said he responded, "No kidding. That's great."
The Braves would like Graham to learn as much as he can during his time in big league camp with Hudson. Both are groundball pitchers who have made the most of their less-than-imposing frames.
"I always kind of liked how he threw and he was a good guy to emulate," Graham said. "He's a smaller guy like I am, maybe a little taller and thinner. But it just kind of happened that I threw like him. Then when I became a starting pitcher, I was like, 'Man, that is someone I really want to be like him.' He throws that nice moving sinker, and mine is a two-seam [fastball]. He's getting that early contact and he's going seven, eight or nine innings every game. A durable guy like that is someone to look up to."
After combining to go 12-2 with a 2.80 ERA with Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi last year, Graham gained widespread notice. He will likely begin this season with Mississippi and have the chance to get promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett at some point during the year.
While Julio Teheran is still rated by many outlets as the Braves' top pitching prospect, there are some scouts who believe Graham might be the better prospect.
"He throws strikes," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I saw that today in live batting practice. He throws it over the plate with all of his pitches. I have not seen him in a game situation. But they rave about him in the reports. They like his competitiveness and the way he goes after hitters."