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Braves in AFL: Sims grows following difficult season

Lucas Sims was focusing on getting his career back on track, heading in the right direction. He was repeating the Class A Advanced Carolina League after a so-so 2014 season there and the former first-round pick of the Braves simply wanted to learn and hopefully earn a promotion.

He had gotten off to a sluggish start, but had thrown well in his first two May starts, when perspective hit he and his Carolina Mudcats teammates hard. In mid-May, the team bus crashed and overturned, causing several injuries. Sims was one of several Braves farmhands who landed on the disabled list as a result, missing more than a month of action.

"It was definitely hard, more the trauma part of it," Sims recalled. "Looking at it in the big picture, everyone's alive. That's really all you can ask for. You hate that it happened, but it could've been worse. Minor League baseball has all sorts of adversity and this is just a little bump in the road."

Sims returned to the Mudcats and did earn that promotion to Double-A, pitching fairly well up a level. Now he's pitching for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, hoping to put this roller coaster season behind him.

"It was for sure an eventful year," Sims said. "[It's great] being able to come here against some of Minor League Baseball's best competition, being able to compete and show what I can do, hopefully learn and be able to take that next step in my game."

Sims threw on the opening day of the Fall League and already feels he is benefiting from being there. The day following his first outing, he was working on things with Peoria pitching coach Derrin Ebert. Ebert works during the regular season with the Cincinnati Reds and Sims immediately saw the benefits of getting a different instructor's insights in the AFL.

"Most of it is just direction to the plate, being on time, and more consistency with all three of my pitches," said Sims, who knows he needs to improve on that to cut down his walk rate (5.5 BB/9 in 2015) and have better overall command. "It's great to have the instruction we have, you hear multiple different voices, not just from your organization, all the other great organizations. It's the chance to pick and choose, and hear a different voice. Sometimes it's all you need."

Sims did throw better his second time out for Peoria, allowing one run over three innings of work, while walking just one. Not only has he benefited from talking regularly with Ebert, he's been able to learn just by watching the others on the Peoria staff. Picking the brains of his peers will undoubtedly help him reach the next level.

"The amount of talent we have on this team, there's so much knowledge to be gained," Sims said. "I'm excited for the rest of this Fall League and being able to learn from everyone."

Just 21, there is still plenty of time for Sims to take everything he's learned and put it all together. That would allow the Georgia native to live out any baseball player's dream: playing for the team he grew up watching. The Braves never shy away from drafting from their own backyard and they did just that when they look Sims out of Brookwood High School in Georgia with the 21st pick of the 2012 Draft. Some might stress about becoming the "local boy done good," but Sims doesn't seem to mind.

"The dream growing up is to play professional baseball at the highest level," Sims said. "It just so happens I got lucky enough to be drafted by my hometown team. It's something that I don't feel too much pressure from it. It's really kind of an honor to be able to wear Atlanta across my chest."

Braves hitters in the Fall League

Joseph Odom, C - The 2013 13th-rounder has yet to play above A ball, spending 2014-2015 in the Carolina League. He played in just 65 games this past season, so the AFL is giving the defensive-minded backstop a chance to get more playing time and prepare for the jump to Double-A.

Johan Camargo, SS - The Panamanian infielder broke into pro ball splitting time between shortstop and third, but had been almost exclusively a shortstop during the past three seasons. A switch-hitter with good defensive actions, Camargo is once again seeing time at both spots on the left side of the infield this fall.

Connor Lien, OF - The outfielder is coming off his finest season as a pro, one that saw him set career highs in just about every offensive category. He needs to improve his approach at the plate (129 Ks, 33 BB in 2015), something he's working on with Peoria this fall, if he wants to continue to be a speedy top-of-the-order catalyst as he makes the move to Double-A next season.

Braves pitchers in the Fall League

Mauricio Cabrera, RHP - Cabrera's first full season as a reliever saw him miss bats (53 strikeouts in 48 1/3 Minor League innings) and reach Double-A, but he also walked 6.5 per nine along the way. He's brought his triple-digits fastball to the AFL, but obviously needs to work on his command.

Andrew Thurman, RHP - Like Sims, Thurman missed a good chunk of the season because of the bus accident involving the Mudcats. He's making up for some of those lost innings now, with the hope that what he learns in the AFL will help him hit the ground running in Double-A next season.

Daniel Winkler, RHP - The Braves took a shot by taking Winkler in the Rule 5 Draft last December, even though Winkler had Tommy John surgery in June 2014. He made it into a couple of big league games in late September and is trying to get some more mound time in Arizona.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter.
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