LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Ask general manager John Schuerholz which of the young pitchers he's keeping an eye on and he mentions Tim Spooneybarger.
Check with manager Bobby Cox about who caught his eye during Friday's first workout for pitchers and catchers and he says Spooneybarger.
"They all threw good, but this guy has an exceptional arm," Cox said. "He was really impressive."
Although none of the young pitchers are assured of a job yet, Spooneybarger is the leading candidate to fill one of the bullpen vacancies based on what he showed the team during last September's callup.
Most impressive is the action on his pitches. The 22-year-old right-hander throws hard and his pitches dip and dart like hungry swallows. Just as importantly, Cox likes Spooneybarger's 'what me worry?' demeanor on the mound.
The Braves were fully prepared for Spooneybarger's sudden ascension after he posted a 3-0 record with an eye-popping 0.71 ERA in 42 games with Class AAA Richmond last season. But seeing him make National League hitters look silly last September convinced the team he was ready, despite his relative lack of experience above Class AA ball.
"I've never heard of scouting reports on a young pitcher like him," Schuerholz said. "He'll be interesting to watch."
Schuerholz also mentioned he's keeping an eye on Damian Moss and Trey Hodges, who had a remarkable walk-to-strikeout ratio of 18/139 at Class A Myrtle Beach last season.
NUMBER SWAPPING: Backup catcher Paul Bako is wearing No. 20 so that new hitting coach Terry Pendleton could return to his old No. 9. What did Bako receive in return?
"It wasn't so much me giving up the number, as the Braves calling and saying your new number is 20," Bako said, laughing.
Normally, a player giving up his number will receive a monetary gift in return. In support of Bako, Tom Glavine suggested Pendleton owed the catcher a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Bako, who will battle Eddie Perez for the backup job behind Javy Lopez, has several advantages over Perez. At 29, he's four years younger. Bako is solid defensively, while Perez has missed most of the last two seasons with shoulder injuries and his throwing is one of the spring's biggest questions.
And, though Bako batted just .212 last season, he opened some eyes when he hit .286 with three RBI during last October's Division Series when Lopez was injured.
"It depends on how Eddie's arm comes along," Bako said, assessing his spring chances. "I'm sure one of us may end up going somewhere."
Perez missed Friday's workout when he returned to his native Venezuela following his father's death Thursday.
EARLY BIRDS: Position players don't have to report until Tuesday, but second baseman Marcus Giles has been here for several days working on his hitting. Why did he arrive so early?
"I was bored at home," he said. "I had to get out of the house."
JACK OF ALL TRADES: Matt Franco was trying to figure out how to attach a knee saver pad to a catcher's shin guard Friday morning, which prompted this question: Why is a first baseman/third baseman working on catcher's gear?
"Catching is something I started awhile back and one day it might make a difference," he said. "I probably won't win a Gold Glove, but I can catch it."
Franco has never caught in the big leagues, but he's served as the emergency catcher for several teams and if he shows the Braves he's adept behind the plate, he could be the team's third catcher, if he makes the team.
PURSLEY RETIRING: Head trainer Dave Pursley, who joined the organization in 1951 when the Braves played in Boston, plans to retire following the season. He has spent 43 years in the big leagues, the longest-serving trainer in the majors.
LATE ARRIVALS: Catcher Steve Torrealba straightened out his passport problems and arrived in time for Friday's workout, but a pair of Dominican players, pitcher Jose Cabrera and catcher Luis Taveras, missed the first workout.
Also absent was shortstop Rafael Furcal, who was expected to arrive in camp but is having visa trouble because of an age discrepancy between his birth certificate and his passport.
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