LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Pitching prospects Jason Hursh and J.R. Graham were among 17 players trimmed from the Braves spring-training roster in the first round of cuts Friday.
None of the moves came as a surprise, as none involved were projected to make the opening-day roster when spring training began.
Three in the group — right-handers Aaron Northcraft and Wirfin Obispo, left-hander Carlos Perez — were on the 40-man roster and were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Northcraft injured a finger during fielding practice early in camp and didn’t pitch in any games. He’s good to go now, but innings are scarce at the big-league level with starters beginning to go deeper in games and the main relievers needing to work more as the season nears.
The others were re-assigned to minor league camp: left-hander Daniel Rodriguez, right-handers Hursh, Graham, Lay Batista, Mark Lamm, Cody Martin, Yunesky Maya and Shae Simmons; catchers Matt Kennelly, Braeden Schlehuber and Jose Yepez; infielders Mark Hamilton and Edward Salcedo, and outfielder Matt Lipka.
Hursh, the Braves’ first-round draft pick in June out of Oklahoma State, pitched in three Grapefruit League games and allowed seven hits and two runs in five innings, with three walks and four strikeouts. The 22-year-old made nine starts at low Class-A Rome after he signed and posted a 0.67 ERA with 20 hits, two earned runs and one homer allowed in 27 innings.
“He’s had half a year of professional baseball, and he’s handled himself well,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Graham created a buzz in spring training a year ago with his 97-100 mph fastball and aggressive mound demeanor. He was rated the Braves’ No. 2 prospect by Baseball America entering last season, but strained his shoulder in May in Double-A and didn’t pitch again in 2013.
He resumed throwing in the fall and is working to regain arm strength and his fastball, which was clocked in the low- to mid-90 mph range this spring. He said the velocity wasn’t a concern or a point of emphasis for him in camp.
“I’m more worried about just how I’ve been pitching, how I’m hitting my spots, how I’m throwing my secondary pitches, and just basically how my arm feels,” Graham said. “Every time I’ve gone out I feel like my arm has gradually gotten stronger, a little more used to throwing. I’m not where I was last year, but I’m getting there. I’m getting close.
“I feel like I just need a little more mound time.”
Graham was charged with three hits and two runs in two-thirds of an inning in his first spring game, and gave up five hits in two innings over his first three appearances. He allowed no hits and one walk in two innings over his last two appearances.
“I think I’ll be good probably by the time the season starts,” he said. “If not, maybe a couple of appearances out of spring. I don’t know. I feel good. I feel competitive. I feel like I could compete at the highest level now. But personally I hold myself to a high standard, so I’m not quite where I want to be now.”
Friday’s roster moves left the Braves with 45 players in major league camp.