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."
Chipper comfortable as 'rookie coach'
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chipper Jones had no trouble looking the part while spending his first day as a guest instructor for the Braves on Sunday afternoon. About an hour before the team workout began, Jones strolled through the home clubhouse wearing his old uniform and handling his fungo bat with the grace of a veteran coach.
After providing Freddie Freeman and others some tips in the batting cages, Jones spent time watching many of the Braves take swings on Field 5 at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex. He spent some time sitting on one of the ball buckets located to the side of the batting cage.
"He's a rookie coach. We've got to bring him along a little bit," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I will address the issue of him sitting on the bucket for two rounds [of batting practice]."
Jones plans to remain with the Braves until returning to Atlanta on Wednesday. Over the next few days, he plans to continue to enjoy time with his new teammates and provide any assistance to hitters who want to benefit from his great knowledge of hitting.
"It's good to have him, and he's welcome any time," Gonzalez said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.