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Atlanta Braves launch new rookie camp

Tyler PastornickyATLANTA -- The start of the Atlanta Braves’ first rookie development camp was a hit with the team’s top draft pick from 2010.

Matt Lipka, 18, sounded like a school kid as he gushed about the week’s schedule that includes trips to Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Georgia Tech games and a visit to the Martin Luther King Center.

“It’s like a field trip,” Lipka said. “It’s awesome.”

The 26 minor league players who gathered Tuesday at Turner Field also found their names on lockers in the clubhouse and Braves backpacks stuffed with gifts hanging in each locker.

Lipka, an infielder from Frisco, Texas, said seeing his nameplate on a locker between All-Star catcher Brian McCann and veteran reliever Peter Moylan “just adds to the hunger” to play for the Braves.

Infielder Tyler Pastornicky, IMG Academy baseball program alumni., said he was speechless when he turned to see Hall of Famer Hank Aaron walk through the clubhouse.

“That was pretty crazy,” said Pastornicky, who came to the Braves in the 2010 trade that sent shortstop Yunel Escobar to Toronto. “It was awesome -- a Hall of Fame legend.”

The Braves are going to a lot of trouble to make their top prospects feel comfortable, and they hope the return on their investment comes when the players are called up to Atlanta.

“Our hope for them, and somewhat our expectation is that this is the Braves team of the future,” said general manager Frank Wren. “This is the team we hope will carry us to championships in the future. That’s why we’re spending this time and effort to make them feel as comfortable as possible.”

Wren said he hopes the players receive “a total acclimation” to the stadium, coaching staff and the city.

“We always hear stories about rookies not knowing which hotel to go to, not knowing how far it is, not knowing about the traffic in downtown Atlanta, not knowing really which area to live in and how to get to places,” Wren said. “This is all to ease those kind of problems that pop up.”

The week’s schedule began Tuesday with a workout at Turner Field and a speech from Wren.

“Our hope for every single one of you is one day you’re a member of the Atlanta Braves and your home is this clubhouse,” Wren said.

The players played catch on the field, away from last week’s snow still standing in front of the Braves dugout.

The players also hit in the indoor batting cage, but the emphasis of the week is not hitting and pitching.

As a safeguard against such top pitching prospects as Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado trying too hard to impress Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell, the team canceled plans for bullpen sessions.

The offseason schedule is for pitchers to throw at 50 to 60 percent velocity in January.

“I think we all know you put them on the mound with the big league manager and pitching coach watching them, they’re going to throw 90 percent or 100 percent because they’re going to try to impress, and that’s really not what this program is all about,” Wren said.

Teheran, who made the climb from Class A Rome, Ga., to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Class AA Mississippi last season, could reach Atlanta in 2011.

“I’m sure we’ll see some of these kids,” Gonzalez said.

Vizcaino, another top prospect, was a big name in the trade that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees before the 2010 season.

Shortstop Edward Salcedo, 19, received a $1.6 million signing bonus last year.

“It’s incredible,” said Salcedo, a native of the Dominican Republic, of his first day in the camp. “When I learned I was coming here, I was so excited. This is where every player wants to be.”

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