- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Starting pitcher Lucas Sims knows firsthand how quickly the Atlanta Braves have upgraded their minor league system.

Sims, regarded as the team’s No. 3 top prospect a year ago, is considered 10th-best after a flurry of trades over the last year. A first-round draft choice for Atlanta in 2012, Sims joined more than 20 other minor leaguers this week for the Braves’ first ever winter development camp.

“It pushes everyone a little bit more and makes you dig a little deeper,” Sims said. “But in a way it’s not a competition because we all have the ultimate goal, to be here in Atlanta and help the Braves win championships.”

Dansby Swanson, the Braves’ top prospect and the majors’ first overall draft pick June, is unable to attend this week because of a family commitment. Swanson was acquired last week with outfielder Ender Inciarte and top pitching prospect Aaron Blair in the deal that sent All-Star pitcher Shelby Miller to Arizona.

“We completely understand and respect that,” said assistant director of player development Jonathan Schuerholz, son of former Braves general manager John Schuerholz. Swanson and Blair “just had their worlds rocked after the trade. It takes some time to kind of let the dust settle and understand now that they’re Atlanta Braves.”

It’s possible that none of this week’s attendees will play in the majors next year, but the focus this week isn’t on baseball activities. There has been some core strength and conditioning work and seminars about nutrition, financial planning and quality of life issues.

“It gives us a chance to help build these guys as men and not just physical specimens,” Schuerholz said.

Under president of baseball operations John Hart and new GM John Coppolella, the Braves have revamped the franchise over the last year by trading major leaguers for prospects.

Two years after winning the NL East, Atlanta lost 95 games last season and could be even worse this year as the franchise leaves Turner Field in 2017 for a new suburban stadium.

Sims has closely followed the overhaul as several homegrown favorites - Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Wood and Evan Gattis - were traded away.

Coppolella has insisted that he’s not listening to offers for star first baseman Freddie Freeman, and it appears that No. 1 starter Julio Teheran is off limits, at least for now.

But the Braves have clearly been rebuilt from the ground up.

“For the fans, it might be hard to understand now,” Sims said, “but I truly believe there’s something special coming here.”

The focus has been on pitching. Of top 10 prospects listed by MLB, seven are first-round picks and eight are pitchers. Left-hander Manny Banuelos, rated eighth-best among Braves, made six starts for Atlanta last year. He and Jenkins are on the 40-man roster.

None of last year’s prized rookies such as Matt Wisler, Hector Olivera and Mike Foltynewicz was considered a candidate to attend this week.

“I look forward to meeting all these guys in spring training,” said outfielder Braxton Davidson, a 2014 first-round pick by Atlanta. “We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

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