Prospects Graham, Hursh, Lipka among 16 cuts

Prospects Graham, Hursh, Lipka among 16 cuts

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Highly-regarded pitching prospect J.R. Graham and two former first-round selections -- right-handed pitcher Jason Hursh and outfielder Matt Lipka -- were among the players sent to Minor League camp when the Braves made their first round of cuts on Friday morning.

The only 40-man roster members affected by this round of transactions were left-handed pitcher Carlos Perez and right-handed pitchers Aaron Northcraft and Wirfin Obispo. All of these hurlers were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Graham, Hursh and Lipka were among the 13 players re-assigned to Minor League camp. The others included catchers Matt Kennelly and Braeden Schlehuber; infielders Mark Hamilton and Edward Salcedo; right-handed pitchers Shae Simmons, Mark Lamm, Cody Martin, Lay Batista and Yunesky Maya and left-handed pitcher Daniel Rodriguez.

As Graham struggled in his first few Grapefruit League appearances, he shook off some of the rust that developed after a right shoulder strain sidelined him six weeks into last year's regular season. But the right-handed reliever appeared to become more comfortable, as he did not allow a hit or a run in his final two appearances.

Graham has not yet regained the arm strength he showed when his fastball was routinely clocked in the upper 90s before he incurred the shoulder ailment. But he did touch 95 mph a few times during the five appearances he made during this year's spring season.

The Braves have not ruled out the possibility of letting Graham stretch out to serve as a starter. But the 24-year-old hurler is expected to begin this season in Triple-A Gwinnett's bullpen.

"It's really encouraging that my arm is healthy and it was getting better each time out," Graham said. "It's just a matter of maintaining the strength in my shoulder and making sure I'm not doing too much in the weight room and on the field, throwing-wise. Now, it's a matter of just trying to keep everything intact."

Hursh was acquired with the 31st overall selection in June's First-Year Player Draft. Less than a year removed from his successful career at Oklahoma State University, the 22-year-old right-hander allowed two earned runs in the five innings he completed in three Grapefruit League appearances. He will likely begin the season in Double-A Mississippi's rotation.

"He's had half a year in professional baseball and he handled himself well," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Lipka's prospect status has declined since he was selected in the first round of the 2010 Draft. But the Braves have remained patient with the 21-year-old outfielder, who displayed his highly-touted speed while hitting .286 (8-for-28) and stealing three bases in 14 Grapefruit League games. He will likely make the jump to Mississippi's roster to begin the upcoming season.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.