10/20/2003 3:41 PM ET
Ramirez, prospects hot in Arizona
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com WorldSeries.com
Horacio Ramirez has recovered from an upper respiratory ailment. (Ed Betz/AP)
ATLANTA -- While Horacio Ramirez, Adam Wainwright and Andy Pratt are in Arizona, attempting to land spots on Team USA, six other Braves prospects are attempting to improve their Major League chances in the Arizona Fall League.
Ramirez, Wainwright and Pratt are among 30 players trying to gain spots on the 24-man roster that will represent the United States in the Olympic qualifying tournament, which begins on Oct. 30 in Panama.
Team USA, which is managed by Expos skipper Frank Robinson, has to reach the Gold Medal game of the qualifying tournament in order to be granted the opportunity to defend the gold medal it won in the 2000 Summer Olympics. The team is preparing with 12 games in the AFL.
Ramirez, who went 12-4 with a 4.00 ERA during his rookie season in Atlanta this year, came down with an upper respiratory infection a few days after the Braves were bounced from the National League Division Series by the Cubs.
But it appears that the 23-year-old southpaw has returned to health and will be ready to assume his projected role as Team USA's ace when the qualifying tournament begins. He tossed three scoreless innings in the national team's 11-1 win over Grand Canyon on Friday.
"This is a great honor," said Ramirez, whose previous appearance before Friday had come in Philadelphia on Sept. 26. "My arm feels great, and I'm just ready to keep playing baseball."
Ramirez threw a career-high 182 1/3 innings during the regular season, but the Braves aren't worried about him being overworked by Robinson. Dayton Moore, the Braves director of player personnel, said it's his understanding that the promising young hurler won't make more than two starts in the qualifying tournament.
Wainwright, the Braves top selection in the 2000 draft, is one of the few power pitchers seeking a spot on the qualifying team. The lanky right-hander, who pitched at Double-A Greenville this year, allowed six earned runs and recorded just three strikeouts in the first six innings he pitched this fall.
Pratt, one of three left-handed pitchers out for a roster spot, was 1-0 with a 5.68 ERA after making both of his first two Arizona appearances in a relief role. As of Monday morning, he had issued four walks and allowed six runs (four earned) on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings.
The Mesa Solar Sox touched Wainwright for four earned runs on six hits in three innings on Oct. 11. The Sox, who won 12 of their first 15 AFL games, have seen plenty of production from the Braves prospects.
Kelly Johnson, a power-hitting shortstop who played at Greenville this year, was hitting .308 (8-for-26) with three doubles, a triple and a homer through Sunday for the Solar Sox. Johnson could one day fill a number of roles in Atlanta.
"He's a good athlete, which gives us all kinds of flexibility to move him around," said Moore. "He can play shortstop, third base or wherever. We're just making sure his bat is ready."
Richie Lewis, a sandwich selection in the 2001 draft who hit just .239 at Greenville this year, was hitting .385 (15-for-39) with three doubles, a triple and a homer. Moore believes that the 23-year-old second baseman could someday find himself as a big-league regular.
Adam Sten has hit .324 (11-for-34) for the Sox and has been the biggest surprise among Braves prospects. Moore sent the 23-year-old outfielder to the AFL to get him at-bats he missed while sitting out most of the 2003 season at Class A Myrtle Beach with a bothersome hamstring.
Brett Evert is the best Braves pitching prospect in the AFL this year. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed seven earned runs and recorded 18 strikeouts in his first 12 2/3 innings for the Sox.
Kevin Berry and Alec Zumvalt, who pitched with Evert in Greenville this year, have both performed well for the Sox. Berry has allowed just one earned run and recorded four strikeouts in his first six innings.
Zumvalt, who was converted from an outfielder to a pitcher in the fall of 2001, has allowed one earned run and registered eight strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings for the Sox. He is 1-0 with a save.
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