Blair, Sims show Braves they're not far behind

Blair, Sims show Braves they're not far behind

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Aaron Blair walked out of the clubhouse on Friday morning with the confidence that he has positioned himself to join the Braves' starting rotation at some point during the course of the upcoming season.

Blair's first experience in big league camp ended when he and fellow pitching prospect Lucas Sims learned that they had been reassigned to Minor League camp. Top position prospects Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Mallex Smith were also among this latest round of Spring Training cuts.

"There were some mixed results, but for my first time being in the organization, I think I showed them the kind of pitcher and person that I am," Blair said. "Hopefully that will help get me to Atlanta soon. I think I showed the coaching staff and the front office that I'm right there."

MLBPipeline ranks Blair as the 56th-best prospect in baseball and the fourth-best prospect in the Braves' talent-rich system. The 23-year-old right-hander was acquired in the same offseason blockbuster trade that brought Swanson and Ender Inciarte to Atlanta from the D-backs.

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Unlike top pitching prospect Sean Newcomb, whose control issues earned him an earlier demotion to Minor League camp, Blair seemed to find an instant comfort in his first Spring Training with the Braves.

As the Braves evaluated how to fill their final two rotation spots, they kept an open mind about Blair, who made 12 starts at the Triple-A level last year. But they opted to provide some more development opportunities to the 6-foot-5, 230-pound righty, who will likely begin his season in Triple-A Gwinnett's rotation.

"My conversation with Aaron was, 'You're a blister, a torn nail or a blown calf away from being in the big leagues," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's that close for me."

Blair allowed 11 hits and eight earned runs over the nine innings he completed during Spring Training. He made a strong impression on Thursday, when he gave up one run in three frames against a lineup that included many of the Nationals' everyday players.

Top Prospects: Blair, ATL

"You can take those numbers and make them say what you want to," Gonzalez said. "But when you watch this guy, you see that he has pitches and he can navigate his way through a lineup. He has the mound presence and all of the stuff that good Major League pitchers have."

Sims' stock took a tumble after the Braves took him in the first round of the 2012 Draft, but the 21-year-old right-hander made some valuable adjustments before encountering some success with Class A Advanced Carolina and Double-A Mississippi in 2015. He permitted nine earned runs in five Grapefruit League innings this spring. In the process, Sims showed some of the coaches that he had made progress over the past year.

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"From what I saw in Spring Training last year compared to this year, his windup and his delivery have been cleaned up," Gonzalez said. "He's just going to continue to get better."

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