Originally created 11/14/97

Braves hope draft spares Graffanino



ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves will keep their fingers crossed Tuesday, hoping they can slip second baseman Tony Graffanino through the first round of the expansion draft.

Sources indicated Thursday that the club has not included Graffanino, highly touted first base prospect Randall Simon and veteran first baseman Fred McGriff on its 15-man protected list.

Among the players the Braves chose to protect are 10 pitchers -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Denny Neagle, John Smoltz, Mark Wohlers, Alan Embree, Kerry Ligtenberg, Mike Cather, Kevin Millwood and Bruce Chen -- and five position players -- outfielders Ryan Klesko, Andruw Jones and Michael Tucker, third baseman Chipper Jones and catcher Javier Lopez.

Graffanino hit .258 with eight homers and 20 RBI last season in limited playing time. He is projected as the future second baseman, but the Braves would be forced to re-sign free agent Mark Lemke or look for another second baseman if Graffanino is taken. Simon will also draw a lot of attention following a season at Class AAA Richmond in which he hit .308 and drove in 102 runs.

The Braves are hopeful that either Tampa Bay or Arizona will take McGriff and the remaining $10 million owed him in the final two years of his contract, which would clear the way for Klesko to return to first base from left field or Simon to take over the position.

In addition to Graffanino, Simon and McGriff, the Braves also chose not to protect Keith Lockhart, the club's best pinch hitter, backup catcher Eddie Perez, relievers Paul Byrd, Chad Fox and John LeRoy, and minor league outfielder George Lombard.

Following the first round, teams can protect three additional players and the Braves will have a difficult decision choosing between Lockhart, LeRoy, Fox, Graffanino, Simon and McGriff, depending on which player is a first-round pick.

BRAVES NOTES: To protect themselves in case free agent shortstop Jeff Blauser doesn't re-sign, the Braves have expressed interest in Rockies free agent Walt Weiss. If Blauser doesn't return, the club will have to sign a free agent or make a trade because there is no minor league shortstop ready to take over.

Blauser, who is seeking a four-year deal for $6-$7 million a year, has drawn interest from five other teams besides Atlanta.

"The Braves have called and let us know they're interested," agent Scott Boras said. "They've made what I call an entry-level offer."

  • The Braves have also called the agent representing free agent infielder David Howard and indicated interest. Howard, who played three infield positions as well as the outfield for the Royals last season, hit .241 in 80 games. He is considered a solid defensive player with a weak bat and would be an excellent addition to the club's bench.
  • LeRoy has drawn considerable interest from scouts watching the Arizona Fall League and impressed manager Paul Runge by throwing two pitches for strikes.
  • "He's been dominating hitters with his fastball and slider," Runge said. "He's a completely different pitcher from when he was in the rotation. I think he's real close. He's got the capability of pitching in the big leagues next season."

    Protected list: RHP Greg Maddux; RHP Tom Glavine; RHP John Smoltz; LHP Denny Neagle; RHP Mark Wohlers; LHP Alan Embree; RHP Mike Cather; RHP Kerry Ligtenberg; RHP Kevin Millwood; LHP Bruce Chen; 3B Chipper Jones; OF Andruw Jones; OF Ryan Klesko; C Javier Lopez; OF Michael Tucker.