ATLANTA -- The Braves have invited 15 non-roster players to spring training, including top prospects Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, Matt Belisle and Scott Sobkowiak.
Among the 15 players, all but two played in Atlanta's farm system last season. The exceptions are pitcher Jason Baker, who was in the Expos' system last year and was signed as a minor league free agent, and infielder Tim Unroe, who split last season between the Angels' and Royals' organizations.
Richard Dishman (6-13, 4.19 ERA at Class AA Greenville) and Derrick Lewis (8-4, 2.40 ERA at Class A Myrtle Beach) round out the group of pitchers. Four catchers -- Jeff Horn, Fernando Lunar, Toby Rumfield and Steve Torrealba -- have also been invited, along with infielders Mark DeRosa, Brian Hunter and Steve Sisco.
For Furcal, who could take over at shortstop this season or next, this will be his first major league camp. Giles, who has been named MVP of the South Atlantic League and Southern League the last two years, was in camp last year. The pair are regarded as two of the best middle infield prospects in baseball and are expected to get a long look from Bobby Cox and his coaching staff during spring training.
Pitchers and catchers report to camp Feb. 17, with their first workout set for the next day, while position players will report Feb. 22.
PLANNING FOR FUTURE:
After trading away several top prospects during the last few years to get players like Denny Neagle, Bret Boone and Gerald Williams, the Braves will have a opportunity to restock their farm system in the annual draft. Describing it as "Christmas in June", scouting director Roy Clark figures the team will have seven picks among the first 75 players, a bounty of selections that comes from the losses of free agents Russ Springer, Williams and Jose Hernandez.
Arizona will yield the 29th pick in the first round, plus a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds, for signing Springer. Milwaukee will give up a sandwich pick, in addition to its second-round pick, for signing Hernandez and Tampa Bay will yield its second-round choice for signing Williams.
"Our scouts are excited about it," Clark said. "We're going to be out in force very soon scanning the country for players."
New second baseman Quilvio Veras agreed to a $3 million salary, leaving center fielder Andruw Jones as the only remaining player eligible for arbitration. Jones filed for $3.8 million, more than 10 times his 1999 salary, and the club offered $3.5 million. The team and Scott Boras, Jones' agent, are likely to split the difference.
Jones' hefty raise and the $76 million guaranteed to 15 players means the Braves' payroll will easily top $80 million this season.
Filling a need for an extra outfielder, the Braves signed Trenidad Hubbard to a minor league contract that will pay him $400,000 if he makes the team. Hubbard, who hit .314 with the Dodgers last season, gives the club some protection in case the oft-injured Reggie Sanders goes down. He can play all three outfield positions, but he doesn't have much power and he batted only .222 as a pinch hitter last year.
The Braves breathed a sigh of relief when tests showed Furcal suffered only a deep bone bruise or a slight hairline fracture in his left leg while playing in the Dominican Winter League. The shortstop, who flew to Atlanta to be examined by a team doctor last week, also had an MRI on his sore left shoulder, which revealed nothing more serious than some looseness and won't need surgery.
Furcal was advised to rest his leg and strengthen his shoulder with exercises and the club expects him to be completely healthy by the start of spring training.
First baseman Andres Galarraga is leading the effort to bring awareness to the tragedy of flood victims in his native Venezuela. He helped organize a softball game between teams of major league players last weekend in Caracas and has vowed to continue the effort throughout the season. He hopes to involve corporations in the United States and Venezuela in helping to rebuild houses and relocate victims of the floods and mud slides.