ATLANTA -- Less than a year after experiencing the thrill of being a first-round selection, right-handed pitcher Jason Hursh is going to spend the early weeks of his first Spring Training rubbing elbows with Major Leaguers in Braves camp.
The Braves announced 22 non-roster players have been invited to participate in their big league camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex this year. Hursh, Edward Salcedo, Tommy La Stella and Matt Lipka are the most notable members of this group who will be participating in big league camp for the first time.
This year's other non-roster invitees include left-handed pitchers Daniel Rodriguez, Atahualpa Severino and Ian Thomas; right-handed pitchers Lay Batista, J.R. Graham, Mark Lamm, Cody Martin, Yunesky Maya, Gus Schlosser and Shae Simmons; catchers Matt Kennelly, Steve Lerud, Braeden Schlehuber and Jose Yepez; infielders Mat Gamel, Phil Gosselin, Tyler Greene and Mark Hamilton.
Like they did with Mike Minor and Sean Gilmartin after selecting them in the first round out of the college ranks, the Braves are going to give Hursh a chance to spend at least a couple weeks of his first Spring Training with the big leaguers.
After being selected out of Oklahoma State University last summer, Hursh posted a 0.67 ERA in the nine starts he made for Class A Rome. The 22-year-old right-hander, ranked by MLB.com as the Braves' No. 4 prospect, will most likely begin the regular season with Class A Advanced Lynchburg.
While La Stella has been heralded as a candidate to replace Dan Uggla as Atlanta's starting second baseman, his first big league camp likely will simply provide the Braves a chance to get a better sense of how close he is to being big league ready. La Stella hit .343 with an .896 OPS in 81 games with Double-A Mississippi last summer and then batted .290 with a .904 OPS in the 18 games he played during the Arizona Fall League.
Graham is another player who will come to Spring Training with legitimate reason to believe he could get his first call to the Major League level at some point this year. The hard-throwing right-handed hurler made a great impression during his first big league camp last year. His journey toward Atlanta was interrupted by a season-ending right shoulder ailment that sidelined him in late May.
Graham will come to camp looking to prove he is healthy and once again capable of producing a fastball that generated a few triple-digit readings on some radar guns last year. Former Braves Minor League pitching coordinator and current Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace has raved about Graham's great potential.
When the Braves gave Salcedo a $1.6 million signing bonus as an international signee in 2010, they likely did not think he would play four full Minor League seasons before getting his first invite to Spring Training. But Salcedo has struggled at the plate, compiling a .689 OPS in 1,899 professional at-bats, and in the field, where he has continued to struggle since making the move from shortstop to third base.
Lipka's prospect status has also taken a hit since the Braves selected him with their first selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. The 21-year-old outfielder was successful with 37 of the 51 stolen-base attempts he made while playing his second straight season with Lynchburg last year. But in 1,613 career plate appearances, he has produced a .655 OPS.
Gamel is another non-roster invitee who will surely draw some attention as he attempts to rekindle the promise he showed before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing for the Brewers each of the past two years. If he proves healthy, he could provide valuable depth in Atlanta at both corner infield spots.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less