Originally created 02/20/03

Braves hold first full-squad workout



KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Wilson Betemit was the only no-show Wednesday as the Atlanta Braves held their first full-squad workout of spring training.

Betemit hoped to get a flight to Florida on Tuesday, but visa problems kept the promising young infielder from leaving the Dominican Republic.

Manager Bobby Cox wasn't concerned.

"It's not a problem," Cox said. "He was hoping to catch a flight, but he didn't get it. He played winter ball, so it's no big deal."

Betemit is the Braves' top prospect among position players, though he's coming off a mediocre season at Triple-A Richmond. After batting .245 with eight homers and 34 RBIs, he likely will spend another year in the minors.

Fifty-five players took part in the workout, which was held under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70s. In other words, a perfect spring training day.

"It was beautiful," Cox said. "A good first day. We did a lot of work."

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BECHLER FALLOUT: Braves first baseman Robert Fick expects many players to change their behavior after the death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler.

Bechler, who died of heatstroke Monday after a spring training workout, had been taking a weight-loss drug that contained ephedrine. The stimulant has been linked to heatstroke and heart trouble.

"Guys are going to take a look at themselves," Fick said. "They're going to try something else. This is not good. I think it will open a lot of people's eyes."

Ephedrine has been banned by the NCAA, NFL and International Olympic Committee, but not by major league baseball.

Braves outfielder Gary Sheffield doesn't think a ban would be effective.

"I think every player has to decide what's best for him," he said. "Baseball can't police everybody. You just hope guys know what they're taking and what they're doing."

Sheffield said baseball shouldn't be blamed for allowing a product that is legally sold in sports nutrition stores.

"If it's bad for you, take it off the counter," he said.

Sheffield said supplements of all sorts are common in baseball clubhouses.

"You're trying to get ready for the season, you're trying to get in great shape, so you go to GNC and say, 'What do you have that will make me bigger and stronger?"' he said.

"You hope the people you're talking to are educated on these things. But as you can see, a lot of that stuff doesn't hold weight. They just give you what you want to buy. That's where you get in trouble."

Even if there was a ban, Fick doubts that baseball would be able to enforce it with testing. After reports of widespread steroid use, baseball and its players agreed to a much-criticized plan that requires two years of surveys before any testing could begin.

"To me, it's just common sense," Fick said. "I don't think you should have to ban something that could kill you. The way things are going, they're not going to drug test anyway."

Some players take ephedrine products to provide a pre-game rush.

"You've got to find something else that can get you up for the game," Fick said. "You've got to be more disciplined."

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ROSTER BATTLES: As usual, the Braves can just about name their 25-man roster before the first exhibition game is played.

A couple of spots on the pitching staff could be up for grabs, and there's an opening for a backup middle infielder.

That's about it.

Manager Bobby Cox hasn't decided whether to carry 11 or 12 pitchers, which will impact how many position players he can keep.

Jason Marquis is favored to be the fifth starter, though shoulder problems have put him behind at the start of camp. That could open the door for a young pitcher such as Trey Hodges or Andy Pratt.

John Smoltz is the closer, while Roberto Hernandez, Ray King, Darren Holmes, Mike Venafro and Kevin Gryboski are favored to land the other bullpen spots. If Cox goes with 12 pitchers, there's another opening.

Among position players, the Braves are giving Mark DeRosa every chance to beat out Vinny Castilla at third base, though both are expected to make the team. Castilla struggled through a disappointing season in his return to the Braves, batting .232 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs.

DeRosa also could wind up at second base, where Marcus Giles is the early favorite to start. Otherwise, the only real battle is for backup middle infielder, which will go to either Ramon Castro or Jesse Garcia, a couple of non-roster invitees.

Cox said he doesn't expect the Braves to make any majors moves before opening day.

"You're always looking, but I think all the little missing parts of the puzzle are right here," he said. "That makes it competitive. It's kind of fun."

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THINKING OF HOME: Catcher Jean Boscan is trying to keep his mind on baseball rather than troubles in his homeland.

Boscan is a native of Venezuela, where a nationwide strike against the government of President Hugo Chavez left the economy in tatters and the populace in turmoil.

"It's pretty tough," Boscan said. "I was there, so I know what's going on."

The strike forced a cancellation of Venezuela's cherished winter baseball season. Boscan was among those players who struggled to get out of the country in time to make it to spring training.

"I had my ticket, but it was tough getting a visa," he said. "The embassy was closed."

Boscan managed to acquire a visa when the United States reopened its embassy in Caracas for three days to take special requests.

"Most of the guys there were baseball players," he said.

Boscan finally made it to Kissimmee last Friday, just one day after the mandatory reporting date for pitchers and catchers.

He is a non-roster invitee who spent last season with three different minor-league teams, batting a combined .220 with three homers and 30 RBIs.