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Kimbrel, Medlen part of US roster for Classic

ATLANTA -- Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen will replace their Braves jerseys with Team USA jerseys that they hope to wear through most of March.

Martin Prado, Andrelton Simmons and Ramiro Pena will also spend a portion of Spring Training showing their patriotic pride while playing in the World Baseball Classic.

Kimbrel and Medlen stand as the only Braves projected to be part of the United States team that will compete in this year's Classic. Both talented young pitchers were part of the Team USA provisional roster that was announced on Thursday morning.

Prado (Venezuela), Simmons (Netherlands) and Pena (Mexico) were revealed as participants when the international rosters were announced Thursday afternoon. The only other Braves representatives will be a pair of Minor Leaguers -- catcher Matt Kennelly and right-handed pitcher Andrew Russell, who will both play for Australia.

"This is something I'd say I've strived for almost my whole life," Medlen said. "Growing up, you see guys get the chance to play for their country in international events. Now to get this opportunity in the big leagues is incredible. I'm talking a lot about it, but really I'm speechless."

Like Kimbrel and Medlen, Prado and Simmons will be competing in the Classic for the first time.

Arguably the game's best closer, Kimbrel has been getting excited about the opportunity since the early days of December. Medlen tempered his excitement until he received a second phone call from Team USA manager Joe Torre approximately two weeks ago.

"[Torre] called and said, 'Can I speak to Kris?'" Medlen said. "I was like, 'This is Kris,' and he said, 'Hey, Kris, this is Joe Torre.' And I was like, 'Hey, Joe.' Then I looked at my wife and shook my head like, 'What am I doing just calling him Joe?'"

As long as Team USA stays alive in this year's Classic, Medlen will be recognizing Torre as his manager or skipper. Torre's coaching staff includes a pair of Braves legends -- first-base coach Dale Murphy and pitching coach Greg Maddux.

While posting a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts he made after transitioning from reliever to starter last year, Medlen showed great command and drew comparisons to Maddux. Chipper Jones and Hank Aaron were just two of the baseball personalities who compared Medlen's approach to Maddux's.

"That will be another unbelievable experience, to be able to meet Greg Maddux and pick his brain," Medlen said. "I've never been comfortable with the comparisons. But it really will be great to be able to spend some time with him."

Medlen said he really gained comfort when Braves general manager Frank Wren and pitching coach Roger McDowell showed their support by saying that they were happy that Medlen and Kimbrel were getting this opportunity.

Medlen is one of four starting pitchers on Team USA's roster. The remainder of the starting rotation includes Toronto's R.A. Dickey, Texas' Derek Holland and San Francisco's Ryan Vogelsong. A fifth starter may be added later.

Kimbrel undoubtedly stands as the top candidate to handle the closer duties. Other potential closers in the U.S. bullpen include Cleveland's Chris Perez, Miami's Steve Cishek and Arizona's Heath Bell.

Medlen, Kimbrel, Prado and Pena will spend the first week of the Grapefruit League season with the Braves and then travel to join their respective teams and prepare for first-round play.

The U.S., Mexico, Canada and Italy will participate in Pool D play, which will take place at Chase Field in Phoenix from March 8-10.

Prado's Venezuela club will compete against the Dominican Republic, Spain and Puerto Rico in Pool C play, which will be staged March 7-10. The top two teams from each pool will advance to the next round.

Because the Netherlands will begin competing in Pool B play on March 2 in Taiwan, Simmons will leave Braves camp around Feb. 22, which is the start of Atlanta's exhibition season. If his team advances to the second round, the talented young shortstop will remain in Asia until approximately March 12.

If the U.S. and Venezuela advance to the second round, they would compete at Marlins Park in Miami from March 12-16. The semifinals and finals are at San Francisco's AT&T Park from March 17-19.

Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, Ramiro Pena, Martin Prado, Andrelton Simmons