One of the pleasures of my job as a reporter that covers the Atlanta Braves organization is to find out about players before most people. It’s always fun to know the name of someone, particularly someone that is an international prospect, before anyone else.
That’s what happened after the Braves signed Elvis Andrus. Sure, it was announced and people talked about it a bit, particularly since his name was Elvis. But I have to admit I felt a little special the first spring training Elvis was in Florida.
Dayton Moore, then the assistant general manager, hollered at me from across the field one day. I knew I was probably in trouble. Moore had never screamed my name before, so I wondered what I had written or what he might have thought I had done but really didn’t.
I walked over slowly, like I was going to see the principal. As I approached Moore, sitting in his golf cart, I had know idea what he was wanting to talk about.
And then he said, proudly, “Have you seen Elvis yet?”
I breathed a sigh of relief and calmly said, “Not yet Dayton.”
Moore wanted me to see Andrus, because it was obvious from his first days in a professional spring training atmosphere that he was special. And when I finally did see Elvis, there was little doubt. He was a special player.
Then three years later there was another one. I had heard about Julio Teheran from the international scouting director, Johnny Almaraz. He signed the right-handed pitcher out of Columbia the summer before.
When I got to spring training in 2008 Teheran was one of the first I wanted to see. Almaraz said he was worth watching. It’s always fun to see the draft picks from the previous year or the international players in the states for the first time.
Another luxury for me is the ability to watch pitchers from the bullpen. There’s an area on the back fields of Disney where the pitchers throw bullpen sessions. There are about 10 pitching rubbers lined up, so the Braves can get plenty of work for their young arms.
The day I arrived in spring training that year happened to be the first day Teheran was going to throw his first bullpen session. Several people, definitely more important than little ole me, were on hand to watch. You had some of the scouts who were in town, along with every single minor league coach in the farm system.
They too wanted to see what this Teheran kid could do.
It was probably a little pressure for the kid, who had just turned 17 six weeks earlier. But he stood up on the mound and threw the ball like a seasoned veteran. He wasn’t intimidated by the eyes that were on him. They wanted to know if he was really that special, and he seemed determined to show all of us that he was.
Teheran showed electric stuff for someone who would be a junior in high school. It was unusual to see someone of that age throw with the ease of someone at least five years older. And when the ball came flying out of Teheran’s hand, it was doing some special stuff.
But one thing I remember clearly, and probably will never forget, is how Teheran finished his quick bullpen session. One of the Spanish-speaking coaches said something to the Columbian-born Teheran. Forgive me for not picking up on what exactly was said, since I rarely paid attention in my high school or college courses.
It was obvious from what Teheran did that the coach said something to the effect of “finish with something they’ll remember,” since Teheran did just that. He rared back and chunked a fastball that sailed straight down into the catcher’s mitt. It was something - just a show that he was, in fact, special.
Kurt Kemp, the farm director, turned around and look at me and said, “How bout that to finish your first bullpen session!”
He was right. It was something. Teheran got up there and looked like a veteran, and finished his performance with a pitch that might have made many be tempted to drive him straight over to the major league bullpen. It was that impressive.
I had a scout, who was also watching the session, tell me afterwards that if Teheran had been eligible for the upcoming draft that June he might be the top pick in the draft. Again, Teheran was only 17 and would have been a junior in high school if he had lived in the states. But the scout was convinced he was that good.
Since then, Teheran’s done absolutely nothing to ruin the image that was created on that March day. Those who saw it will probably never forget it, and now as he gets ready to make his big league debut tonight in Philadelphia, it makes those of us who saw Teheran’s first pro bullpen session feel fortunate to see a little slice of history.
Teheran was something special that day, and chances are we have many special days ahead with him on a major league mound.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and The Atlanta Baseball Talk Show. Shanks writes columns for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.