Atlanta Braves prospect Lucas Sims answers questions during a media event held at Coolray Field Thursday afternoon. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
ATLANTA — On a wintry day hardly appropriate for baseball, Lucas Sims got to play catch for the first time at Turner Field.
There was nothing special about the way the 19-year-old Brookwood graduate threw the ball, but the surroundings certainly were at the Atlanta Braves’ rookie development camp.
The first-round draft choice in 2012 had his name on the locker used by Tim Hudson last season. Kris Medlen’s nameplate was just a few stalls away and John Smoltz — Sims’ pitching hero — had once lockered a few feet away.
A lot has changed since Sims used to go to Braves games as a young fan and the pace of that change keeps getting fast.
Not only has the right-hander vaulted to Atlanta’s best prospect, but now he is labeled as one of the best in all of baseball as well.
MLB.com’s Top 100 list — released the night of that first catch at Turner Field on Thursday — has Sims ranked at No. 60.
The only other Braves player on the list is catcher Christian Bethancourt at No. 82. The 22-year-old from Panama has been on the prospect radar for several years. Sims really wasn’t a blip before the second half of last season.
Then Sims turned heads. In the bullpen to start the season for Class A Rome, he won his last eight starts — giving up just 12 hits and two runs over 22 innings in the final four — and finished 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA.
“He really had a heck of a second half,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
No longer can Sims escape constant scrutiny. His inclusion on MLB.com’s Top 100 list assured further insured that.
“It’s cool and it’s an honor,” Sims said of his newfound status. “… You can’t avoid it. But it’s not my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is to get up here and help win a World Series.”
Sims, who turns 20 on May 10, will have to fast-track to the majors to get to Turner Field before it is scheduled to close following the 2017 season.
His first memories involve Coca-Cola Sky Field in the left-field upper deck. He was too young to really pay much attention to the action on the field.
“I thought the fireworks coming out of the Coke bottle were cool and running the bases up top,” he said.
Sims was on the field after being drafted and again last September when he was honored as the Braves minor league pitcher of the year. But during the development camp he got to take the field in uniform, although it certainly wasn’t baseball weather.
“Once you’re actually out there, even when (the stands are empty), it’s something that catches your eye.”
Sims caught everyone’s eye with his work at Rome last season and certainly no longer looks like the slender Brookwood standout who was a shortstop as well as pitcher.
About 195 when he was drafted, Sims now packs a solid 220 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. Eating right, which included abandoning sugary drinks, has been a valuable early life lesson as a minor leaguer.
If he had gone to Clemson as originally planned, Sims would just be in his sophomore year. “Just learning to living on my own as been an adjustment,” he said.
On the mound, he has adjusted to better align his body toward the plate. With that has come better control.
“I’m always going to throw kind of across my body,” said Sims, who had 134 strikeouts to 46 walks in 116 2/3 innings at Rome. “That’s how I get through the ball, so I’m not expecting a perfect straight line to the plate. But there is room for improvement.”
Sims, at least a year away from being invited to major league spring training, went to the fall instructional league for the second time. He will likely start the season with Lynchburg, a step up in Class A from Rome.
“Hopefully, everything will be clicking by the time the season rolls around,” Sims said. “I’m excited to get going.”