LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- J.R. Graham made one last solid impression by tossing two scoreless innings in Saturday night's 4-0 win over the Yankees at Champion Stadium. After the game, the Braves reassigned the highly regarded pitching prospect to Minor League camp.
Proving up to the challenge of performing in his first big league camp, Graham surrendered six hits and did not allow a run in nine Grapefruit League innings. The 23-year-old hard-throwing right-hander, who is ranked as the Braves' No. 4 overall prospect by MLB.com, issued two walks in his debut and just one more in his final eight innings.
"We saw him earlier pin his ear back and try to throw it 100 [mph]," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The last couple of outings out, he has been able to mix his pitches a lot better. When he does that, he almost becomes unhittable."
Fueled by adrenaline, Graham looked much like a closer or late-inning reliever as he lit up the radar gun with a flurry of fastballs that registered above 97 mph. But as he got more comfortable, he looked more like he had while going 12-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 26 combined starts with Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi last year.
Graham will likely begin this season in Mississippi's rotation and have the chance to eventually make his way to Triple-A Gwinnett. He made just five starts during his collegiate career at Santa Clara University and has made just 34 more since the Braves selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
This first experience in big league camp gave Graham a chance to rub elbows with his childhood idol, Tim Hudson. When Hudson was exiting the bullpen before a start with the A's in 1999, he tossed a ball to Graham, who was just 9 years old.
"He's been the pitcher that I've looked up to," Graham said last week. "I probably kind of aged him a little bit when I told him I was 9 when I used to go to Oakland games and that I wanted to be just like him. Now, 14 or 15 years later, being in the same locker room, I guess the stars were aligned. It couldn't have played out any better."