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Brookwood grad hopes to start season with Rome Braves

Photo: Bill Setliff Brookwood grad and Braves first-round draft pick Lucas Sims throws in spring training this season.

Photo: Bill Setliff Brookwood grad and Braves first-round draft pick Lucas Sims throws in spring training this season.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Most 18-year-olds would want to stay as long as possible in Florida, especially at spring break time.

Lucas Sims isn't one of them, though.

The 2012 Brookwood graduate has spent enough time in the sun and even Disney World isn't a place where he wants to hang out long term.

The Atlanta Braves' first-round draft choice would rather be in Rome by the first week of April -- as crazy as that may sound to most his own age.

Sims hopes to get his first full year in the minors started as soon as possible and that means the Class A South Atlantic League rather than staying in Florida waiting for the start of the rookie-level Appalachian League in June.

The right-handed pitcher made it to Danville, Va., for the final month of last season. He's not interested in a return.

"I'd like to start the season with Rome," said Sims, the 21st overall pick in last year's draft. "That's definitely a goal. But I'll have to wait and see. "

Atlanta won't set its minor league rosters until this weekend, but in all likelihood Sims won't be disappointed.

Sims, who turns 19 on May 10, would be one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. But he appears capable of handling the challenge.

The Braves took it easy with Sims last year, limiting him to a total of 34 innings. But he had some dominant -- if short -- outings at Danville, where he recorded 29 strikeouts in 27 of those innings.

Sims' showing was enough to make him the Braves' No. 3 prospect according to MLB.com and place him No. 5 on the Baseball America list.

Atlanta gave Sims, who grew up a Braves fan, a bonus of $1.65 million to bypass a scholarship to Clemson and his selection appears to be a perfect fit for team and player.

"He had a good first year," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We were pleased."

The Braves were also extra cautious with Sims because of his workload as a Brookwood senior, when he pitched the Broncos to the state title series against Parkview by going 8-1 with a 1.19 ERA.

This year, the wraps will be off.

"He will have pitch limits like all our pitchers," said Bruce Manno, the Braves' director of player development. "But there won't be any special restrictions this season."

Sims spent more than a month in the Braves' instructional league program after last season and then reported to minor league spring training at the end of February after about four months at home in Snellville.

"I worked out really hard, because I know the season will be long," the 6-foot-2 Sims said. "I lifted four days a week and did a lot of sprint work. I focused on getting stronger."

Asked if he missed school, Sims offered an emphatic, "No."

But it isn't as if being a minor league baseball player is all fun and games.

"It's a big adjustment," Sims said. "This is your living. You've got to grow up pretty quick. But I think I've taken it all in stride. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'm having a blast and learning a lot."

Sims has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and sharp curve. His changeup remains a work in progress and he is still working on better repeating his delivery.

"I've really been working hard on throwing strikes and commanding all three of my pitches," he said.

Rome opens its season on April 4 at Savannah, then has a seven-game homestand beginning April 6.

In 2003, Gwinnett products Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur spent their first full seasons with the R-Braves as teenagers. Sims would like to do the same.

"I'm ready to roll," he said. "I'm excited about getting started. I've worked hard to get ready and hopefully I'll have a great year."