Bethancourt among five minor leaguers added to 40-man

The Braves have added five minor leaguers to their 40-man roster, including catching prospect Christian Bethancourt and right-handed pitchers Zeke Spruill, David Hale, Cory Rasmus and Aaron Northcraft.

Being added to the roster prevents them from being taken in the Rule 5 draft, which will be held Dec. 6 at the winter meetings. The Braves 40-man roster stands at 36.

Bethancourt, 21, is considered the Braves catcher of the future, with Brian McCann playing out the option year of his contract in 2013. Bethancourt hit .243 in 71 games for Double-A Mississippi before breaking a bone in his hand and missing the last month of the season. He has returned to form in the Dominican Winter League, where he is hitting .258 (8-for-31) in 12 games.

The Braves signed Gerald Laird as their backup catcher and replacement for David Ross but could turn to the strong-armed Bethancourt to help him fill in for McCann in early April. McCann is expected to miss at least the first couple of weeks of …

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Braves target Upton, while weighing other CF options

(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien.)

The Braves are pursuing multiple options at center field, both through free agency and the trade market, but B.J. Upton has emerged as their top free agent choice.

Upton after one of his 28 homers in 2012

Upton after one of his 28 homers in 2012

Braves general manager Frank Wren said the Braves are still in on the biggest free agent names out there, including their own Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton and Angel Pagan, but they are making a strong push for Upton.

“We like him,” Wren said Monday. “But this time of year you’ve got a lot of lines in the water. You’re not sure which fish you’re going to catch. So you have to make sure that you have enough lines out there that you catch a fish. And we’re very much in that mode. We’re checking. We’re involved on just about everything, every center fielder that we like.”

The Braves invited the former Tampa Bay Rays center fielder to Atlanta last Thursday where team officials spent six hours with …

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Braves still waiting for Salcedo to flourish

PHOENIX – When the Braves gave Dominican teen Edward Salcedo a $1.6 million signing bonus in 2010, a franchise record for a foreign amateur, they compared it to getting a No. 1 draft pick. They said he was a special player, that he might be ready to take over at shortstop or third base within a few years.

Thirty-three months later, Salcedo has a .240 career average and .694 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with 32 home runs, 156 RBIs and 124 errors in 339 minor-league games, none above the Class-A level.

“It may take him a little longer,” a Braves official said.

He moved full-time to third base and had a modest season at high-A Lynchburg, hitting .240 with a .295 OBP, though he did have 17 homers and 61 RBIs in 130 games. Salcedo was then sent to the Arizona Fall League to compete against many of baseball’s top prospects, including some who already had brief stints in the major leagues.

It did not go well. He finished with a league-worst .140 average and .454 OPS for …

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Braves sign Laird as backup catcher (updated)

The Braves hope that catcher Gerald Laird keeps a personal streak alive by playing in a third consecutive World Series in 2013.

Five days after losing backup catcher David Ross to the Red Sox, the Braves replaced him with free agent Laird, who played for 2012 AL champion Detroit and 2011 World Series champion St. Louis.

Laird, who turned 33 on Tuesday, got a two-year, $3 million deal that includes incentives worth up to $750,000 based on number of games started.

The right-handed hitter made $1 million in 2012, when he had his best season in four years. He hit .282 with two home runs, a .337 on-base percentage and .374 slugging percentage in 191 plate appearances, and excelled during a June stretch when Tigers catcher Alex Avila was hurt.

That was an important factor for the Braves, who will need Laird to play on a regular basis in April as starting catcher Brian McCann continues his rehabilitation from Oct. 16 shoulder surgery. McCann faces an expected six-month recovery and …

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Ahmed is Braves’ latest rising shortstop

PHOENIX — Told that a reporter in from Atlanta was here to interview him, Nick Ahmed looked up for a second, said OK, but didn’t rush to finish a card game the Braves shortstop prospect was playing with a Phoenix Desert Dogs teammate.

He’s young (22), but cool. Can’t seem too enthusiastically eager-to-please, you know?

This was last Saturday morning in Phoenix, heading into the fifth and final week of an Arizona Fall League season in which Ahmed has drawn attention from plenty of major league scouts, who often account for about 10 percent of the 200 or so folks in the seats for a 12:35 p.m. AFL game.

He had two triples in his first two at-bats Wednesday against Surprise and carried a .288 average, .361 on-base percentage and seven extra-base hits (one homer) in 73 at-bats before Thursday’s season finale. Ahmed had 10 RBIs and five stolen bases in 19 games, and 11 strikeouts gave him one of the lowest K rates in the league.

“He’s come out here and opened some eyes, …

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Braves’ 2013 spring training will start earlier

Braves pitchers and catchers will report to spring training earlier than usual Feb. 11 and open the Grapefruit League schedule Feb. 22 against the American League League champion Detroit Tigers in a home game at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

It’s the earliest spring-training game ever for the Braves. Across the majors, spring training is earlier this year to accommodate the World Baseball Classic in March, being played for the first time since 2009. The Braves open their Grapefruit League schedule with back-to-back home games against the Tigers and Yankees Feb. 22-23, then travel to Bradenton, Fla., to face the Pirates on Feb. 24.

The Braves play 18 home games at Champion Stadium including four night games against Washington (March 1 and March 21), Detroit (March 7), and the Yankees (March 16).

Braves pitchers and catchers have their first workout Feb. 12. Other position players are due to report Feb. 14, and the first full-squad workout is Feb. 15. There are …

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Ross exit adds to Braves’ expanding to-do list

PHOENIX – Chipper is retired, David Ross is gone, Michael Bourn is likely leaving, Brian McCann is hurt, and Josh Hamilton isn’t walking through that door.

So I can understand why some Braves fans are getting anxious or downright worried.

The Braves will miss the veteran Ross, on the field and in the clubhouse.

The Braves will miss the veteran Ross, on the field and in the clubhouse.

But folks, it’s mid-November. Still weeks away from the Winter Meetings, which is usually when things really start heating up on the trade and free-agent fronts.

So before convincing yourself that this will be another Garrett Anderson or Raul Mondesi sort of offseason for the Bravos, I’d advise to take a deep breath and understand the team has both the cash and/or  trade pieces (which they now seem willing to part with) to assure they won’t have to settle for picking up a scrap-heap player for left or center.

No significant deals were struck but the hot stove was stoked during last week’s GM meetings near Palm Springs, and already we’re seeing things move …

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Ready named Gwinnett Braves manager

The Braves named Randy Ready their new manager for Triple-A Gwinnett, the team announced Monday.

New Gwinnett manager Randy Ready

New Gwinnett manager Randy Ready

Ready will replace Dave Brundage, who left after six years as the Braves’ Triple-A manager (two in Richmond, four in Gwinnett) to take the Triple-A managing job in the Phillies organization in Lehigh Valley.

Ready, 52, comes to the Braves from the Texas Rangers where he served as their minor league hitting coordinator last season. But a majority of his experience comes from his time with the San Diego Padres, where he served as their major league hitting coach from July of 2009 through the 2011 season.

Prior to that, Ready spent six seasons as a minor league manager for the Padres, including 2008 and the first part of 2009 with Triple-A Portland. He is 489-466 as a minor league manager.

Ready is a former major leaguer – primarily playing second and third base – who spent 13 seasons with the Brewers, Padres, Phillies, Athletics and Expos.

“I’m …

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Braves lose catcher Ross to Red Sox

PHOENIX – The Braves have lost valuable backup catcher David Ross to the Boston Red Sox, who nearly doubled the free agent’s salary with a two-year, $6.2 million contract.

The deal won’t be announced until after Ross passes a physical exam, and neither Ross nor officials with the Braves or Red Sox was likely to comment until then. Ross and team officials confirmed the pending deal.

With starting catcher Brian McCann expected to miss the first 2-4 weeks of the 2013 season recovering from Oct. 16 shoulder surgery, the Braves will look for another veteran catcher to help handle the position until the six-time former All-Star is ready. The Braves recently picked up McCann’s $12 million option for 2013, but he’ll be eligible for free agency after that.

Ross is widely regarded as the best backup catcher in baseball, and the Braves valued him a great deal both on the field and in the clubhouse, where he was one of the team’s most respected members during his time in …

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No deals, but Braves say GM meetings productive

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Braves officials left the general managers meetings without crossing off any items on their offseason shopping list, but that didn’t mean their three days at a desert resort weren’t productive.

“Overall it was beneficial to sit down with clubs and discuss possibilities,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said before boarding a flight Friday afternoon out of nearby Palm Springs, “and we were able to advance some discussions.”

The Braves seek a center fielder/leadoff hitter and a power-hitting left fielder. At the GM meetings Wren and his top assistants, including Bruce Manno, John Coppolella and Jim Fregosi, got a better idea of what might be available and affordable on the trade and free-agent markets during discussions with various player agents and officials from other teams.

The groundwork for deals rather than deals themselves are generally what happens at the annual GM meetings, with the notable exception of the Braves’ trade for Dan …

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