First on BravesCenter: Venters Signs

<B>UPDATE: The Braves have signed LHP Jonny Venters. Jonny will report to Orlando within the next few days to begin preparation for the upcoming season.</B> <BR> <BR> Jonny Venters knows the Braves are pretty good at developing pitchers, and if it's up to him, he'll be one of their newest projects.

Venters is a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher. The Braves drafted him in the 30th round last June out of Lake Brantley High School in Altomonte Springs Florida. Instead of signing with the Braves, Venters decided to attend Indian River Community College.

This makes Venters a draft and follow prospect meaning the Braves have until midnight tonight to sign him to a contract.

"There's definitely a big chance (I'll sign)," Venters said Saturday afternoon. "It's being drawn out 'til tomorrow night. We're getting there."

Venters says at this point the two sides are just trying to agree to the money. "I'm at a (contract) number and just waiting to see if they'll come close to that number."

The 6'3", 180 pound Venters spent the 2004 season as Indian River's closer. He had six saves with an ERA near 2.50, along with 30 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched. He was also the starting centerfielder for Indian River and hit .340 with 3 home runs.

While he played well in centerfield, it was the pitching that impressed the Braves. They plan to make Venters a starting pitcher.

"That's what I want to do (be a starting pitcher)." Venters says. "They have one of the best systems in the game. They don't rush you. There's good coaches to teach you. It's a good system."

Venters slipped a bit last year in the draft as he struggled in his senior year of High School. He fell all the way to the 30th round, so he decided to attend junior college at least for a year.

"I improved a lot," Venters explained. "It was something I always knew I could do. I grew up fast and my mechanics were always messed up."

But despite a strong starting staff at Indian River, Venters was able to gain valuable experience as the team's closer. He's got a curveball, slider, change up, and a fastball that topped out at 93 during the season but has increased to 94 MPH since he's been home.

"Since I've been closing, I know I'll have to build up my stamina in order to start," Venters said. "The Braves have a very good system. I know it's very important to be apart of that.

The Braves have already told Venters he would start this season in the Gulf Coast League and possibly move up to Danville by the end of the season.

That's the same start Tom Glavine had to his Braves career twenty years ago, and the same way Horacio Ramirez began his career in 1998.

The Braves hope Venters is the next left-hander to start off in the GCL and make it all the way to Atlanta.

"I'm pretty optimistic about it," Venters said. "We're not far apart. It's stressful yet exciting at the same time."

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