Gustafson's future with Braves in jeopardy

Tim Gustafson pitched very well in the Mexican Pacific League. Was it too well to stay in the Atlanta organization?

The former Parkview and Georgia Tech standout is eligible for the Rule 5 draft of minor league players on Thursday at baseball's winter meetings and that means he might not get to realize his major league dreams with the hometown Braves.

"It's out of my control, so it isn't something I'll be concentrating on," Gustafson said Tuesday. "If it happens, it happens. I think the chances that someone will take me are probably pretty slim."

Those chances, though, increased after the right-hander went 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 10 games for the Navojoa Mayos in one of baseball's top winter leagues.

In an organization loaded with pitching prospects, Gustafson still didn't land a spot on Atlanta's 40-man roster and as a result he is eligible to be taken by another team in the Rule 5 draft.

The catch is that a player taken in the major league phase must stay with his claiming team in the majors all season or be offered back to the original organization at half the $50,000 draft price.

"Obviously, you hope no one is taken," Atlanta director of player development Kurt Kemp said.

Last winter, 21 players were taken in the first round and only one -- San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera -- stuck all year with his new team.

There is also a Class AAA phase of the draft, however, and Gustafson could be selected there unless promoted from Class AA Mississippi to the Gwinnett roster.

Atlanta didn't lose a player in the major league part of the draft last year, but outfielder Carl Loadenthal was taken in the Class AAA phase by the New York Mets for $12,000.

Gustafson would ideally like to stay with his hometown team, especially with the Braves' Class AAA team now in his home county.

"I was a Marlins fan and an Orioles fan when I was young and lived in south Florida," Gustafson said. "But when we moved here, I adopted the Braves. I was excited to sign with them and it's been my goal to pitch at Turner Field."

Injuries have set Gustafson back, with reconstructive elbow surgery costing him basically all of the 2008 season. He finished strong last season at Mississippi, though, and followed that up by becoming one of the top pitchers in Mexico.

Gustafson, who turns 25 on Dec. 29, returned home early to take part in a clinic at Parkview last weekend, but Navojoa wants its ace to return for the playoffs in January.

"I don't know yet if I'll go back or not," Gustafson said. "I got in the innings I needed and I wanted to take some time off for Christmas. I kind of need to just see what happens."

The Rule 5 draft may factor into his decision. Meanwhile, Gustafson has already got off to an early start on Christmas.

"I collect things all season and then give them out to the kids at the clinic," Gustafson said. "It was a lot of fun."

Canizares sent to Gwinnett

To clear space on its 40-man roster, Atlanta dropped Barbaro Canizares and outrighted the first baseman to Gwinnett after he cleared major league waivers.

The 30-year-old Cuban defector spent most of last season with the G-Braves, hitting .294 with 31 doubles, 12 homers and 79 RBIs. He also drew 52 walks, giving him a .386 on-base average to go with his .435 slugging mark.

Canizares, who signed with Atlanta in 2006, also got into five major league games, going 4-for-21.

The right-handed hitter played in the AAA All-Star Game, as well as the All-Star Futures Game last season. He is playing in Venezuela this winter.