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In dead of winter, baseball right around corner

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In dead of winter, baseball right around corner

ATLANTA (AP) Play ball!

On a frosty winter day, the Atlanta Braves started getting ready for the rites of spring - tossing around baseballs and jumping into the batting cage to take a few swings at Turner Field.

It may seem hard to believe, but spring training is just a few weeks away.

Among those turning out for the informal workouts Tuesday with temperatures in the low 40s: closer Craig Kimbrel, slugger Jason Heyward and recovering starter Brandon Beachy, who is coming off major elbow surgery but hopes to be ready by June.

As with most teams this time of year, there's plenty of optimism. The Braves will have to make do without longtime star Chipper Jones, who retired, but they're looking forward to adding free-agent signee B.J. Upton to the lineup.

``The sky's the limit for us,'' said Heyward, who seems poised to become the Braves' biggest star now that Jones is gone. ``We feel like it's set up pretty well for us.''

Of course, it was a bit strange to see that empty locker on the other side of the room, the spot where Jones held court in the later years of a nearly two-decade-long career.

``We've been preparing for this day as much as anyone could,'' Heyward said, glancing in that direction. ``But it will feel different. For me, being from Georgia, ever since I've been in Georgia, No. 10 has been on the field for the Braves. That's going to be a different feeling for me.''

But, he added, ``Good things do come to an end. I'm just glad he was able to go out on his own terms.''

Kimbrel had a hectic offseason, getting married the first of December and honeymooning in the Dominican Republic.

``We got back in time for Christmas and New Year's,'' he said, ``and now it's baseball season.''

The right-hander will try to follow up one of the most dominant seasons ever by a closer, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to strike out more than half the batters he faced (116 out of 231).

Kimbrel also is getting ready to play for his country for the first time. He was selected, along with teammate Kris Medlen, to pitch for the U.S. at the World Baseball Classic in March.

``I'm very excited,'' Kimbrel said. ``It doesn't happen too often, and this is my chance to do it. I'm going to do my best and try to help Team USA win.''

Kimbrel and Medlen aren't the only Atlanta players who'll be suiting up in the WBC. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons will play for the Netherlands, while third baseman Martin Prado is part of the Venezuelan roster.

Those four will have to leave Atlanta's camp in the middle of spring training, but general manager Frank Wren said he would never discourage a player from representing his country unless there was some sort of injury concern. In fact, he thinks the experience might actually help someone such as Kimbrel, who wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be at the start of last season.

Heyward passed on a chance to play for the U.S. team, however, feeling it was better to stay with the Braves throughout the spring.

``He sees the long-range benefit of being in our camp,'' Wren said. ``He feels like working consistently with our guys will help him during the season.''

Heyward was a rookie star in 2010, homering in his first big league at-bat and drawing praise as the future of baseball from no less than Hank Aaron. After struggling through injuries and mechanical problems in his sophomore season, he bounced back nicely last year - 27 homers, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

He feels his career is back on track.

``The biggest thing that's different is I don't feel like I'm searching for anything,'' he said. ``Baseball is a feel game. You need to know what you're looking for. You need to have the right feel for how your swing is broken down: timing, tempo, just things as simple as your stance. I feel like all those things I have now.''

Beachy is taking a different approach this spring, since he's still in the middle of a yearlong recuperation from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.

For him, the normal routine of spring training won't come until a couple of months into the season.

``I'm not too thrilled about that,'' said Beachy, who was the Braves' most effective starter before he went down. ``I want to feel part of the normal routine as soon as possible.''

For everyone else, it will get here soon enough.

Sure, the Super Bowl is still more than a week away. But the Braves' pitchers and catchers will be reporting to camp in Florida on Feb. 11.

Yep, it's almost time to play ball.

---

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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NBA Draft 2019: Rumors, predictions, and a preview of draft night

NBA Draft 2019: Rumors, predictions, and a preview of draft night

The day we have been waiting for has finally arrived. 60 prospects will be selected and their careers will begin. This year’s draft has a lot more anticipation than many others in recent memory, and that can be attributed to one man who needs no introduction. Zion Williamson took the NCAA by storm. Duke last season and New Orleans is prepared to add him to their core as soon as the draft commences. There will surely be surprises, trades, storylines, and a lot of emotion when the 2019 NBA Draft begins, and NBC Sports Washington has everything you need to know to get you ready for the big night.

2019 NBA Draft Preview

The 2019 NBA Draft takes place on Thursday, June 20. The Wizards hold the ninth overall pick. Here's everything you need to know...

When: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York

TV: NBC Sports Washington will have Wizards-centric draft coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. on TV and the MyTeams app, the official broadcast is on ESPN

Final Mock Draft: READ

Final Big Board: READ

I Am the Prospect:

Bruno FernandoFrom Angola to the NBA Draft, Bruno Fernando is about to make NBA history. FEATURE.

Ty JeromeTy Jerome's relationship with his hard-driving father shaped him into a bona fide NBA prospect. FEATURE.

Isaiah Roby: Isaiah Roby's journey from small-town unknown to potential NBA Draft steal. FEATURE.

Nickeil Alexander-WalkerVirginia Tech's Nickeil Alexander-Walker is ready to elevate Canada's profile in the NBA. FEATURE.

DeAndre HunterNBA Draft prospect De'Andre Hunter is ready to make his family proud at the next level. FEATURE.

Wizards Draft Prospects by Position:

Guards: The Wizards have worked out multiple prospects that will be able to assist them in the backcourt from the get-go. With John Wall sidelined for the foreseeable future, Bradley Beal can't do it all. Hopefully, some reinforcements will lighten his workload.  READ

Wings: In this era of NBA basketball, there is no such thing as too much wing depth. After adding Troy Brown Jr. in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Wizards could look to add to their arsenal. READ

Big Men: Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant are free agents. Jabari Parker may not be back in D.C. next season. The Wizards could opt for some help down low. READ

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles:

Zion Williamson, F, Duke: The freshman sensation may be the most talked about prospect heading into the draft since LeBron James. Profile.

Ja Morant, G, Murray State:
The mid-major star broke onto the scene in his sophomore campaign, and the Memphis Grizzlies look to be sold.  Profile.

R.J. Barrett, G, Duke:
The Canadian swingman was the presumed No. 1 pick for a long stretch prior to Williamson’s arrival, and is slotted to go in the top four. Profile.

DeAndre Hunter, F, Virginia: After a strong showing in the NCAA Title Game, Hunter has a lot of buzz going in his favor. Profile.

Darius Garland, G, Vanderbilt:
The biggest wild card of the 2019 Draft, Garland has been gaining a lot of traction ahead of the big night. Profile.

Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech:
An impressive 2019 season and Final Four run has propelled Culver into a lottery prospect. Profile.

Coby White, G, North Carolina:
Breaking Michael Jordan's freshman records at UNC, White is near the top of most big boards. Profile.

P.J. Washington, F, Kentucky:
Don't call him a one-and-done from Kentucky. Washington raised his stock with a second year in college. Profile.

Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga:
Hachimura was one of the best players in the NCAA last season, but evaluators see flaws in his game. Profile.

Cam Reddish, F, Duke:
Reddish took a backseat behind Williamson and Barrett at Duke, how much will it cost him? Profile.

Jaxon Hayes, F, Texas: 
He's considered the best center of this draft class. Profile.

Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland:
You're not going to find a better rebounder in the draft than Fernando. Profile.

Bol Bol, C, Oregon:
The Oregon star dazzled when he was on the court, but that wasn’t often. Profile.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech:
The Hokies’ star is ready to contribute from the get-go. Profile.

Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky:
One of the many Wildcats projected to go in the first round, Johnson has a very high upside. Profile.

Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga:
The tip transfer last season in Spokane, Clarke provides a lot to like as a prospect.  Profile.

KZ Okpala, F, Stanford:
The Cardinal looks to be one of the more NBA-ready prospects in this class. Profile.

Romeo Langford, G, Indiana:
The Hoosiers missed the tournament in March, and Langford’s draft stock may have taken a hit as a result. Profile.

Sekou Doumbouya, F, France: 
The French forward has a lot of suitors and will surely be one of the first international players off the board. Profile.

Kevin Porter Jr., G, Southern California:
A major wild card, Porter showed flashes at USC of a bona fide star, but couldn’t stay on the floorProfile.

Grant Williams, F, Tennessee:
After a solid career in Knoxville, Williams will look to elevate his game at the biggest level. Profile.

Wizards Pre-Draft Workouts:

There were not many players expected to go around the ninth pick that worked out for the Wizards. However, there are several prospects expected to go in the later rounds, or perhaps would not be drafted at all.

-Coby White, G, North Carolina
-Nassir Little, F, North Carolina
-Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky
-Brandon Better, G, Southern Utah
-Joe Cremo, G, Villanova
-Jon Davis, G, Charlotte
-Malik Dunbar, F, Auburn
-Paul Eboua, F, Africa
-Kaleb Johnson, F, Georgetown
-Aubrey Dawkins, G/F, UCF
-Jordan Caroline, F, Nevada
-Justin Robinson, G, Virginia Tech
-Kavell Bigby-Williams, F, LSU
-Elijah Thomas, F, Clemson
-William McDowell-White, G, Australia
-Bryce Brown, G, Auburn
-Jessie Govan, C, Georgetown
-Frank Howard, G, Syracuse
-Anthony Lee, G, Kutztown 
Myles Stephens, G, Princeton
-Harry Froling, C, Australia
-Shizz Alston, G, Temple
-Shannon Bogues, G, Stephen F. Austin
-Jamall Gregory, G, Jacksonville State
-Trey Mourning, F, Georgetown
-Ed Polite Jr., F, Radford
-Trey Porter, Forward, Nevada
-Corey Davis, G, Houston
-Jaylen Hands, G, UCLA
-Lyle Hexom, F, Peru State
-Jonathan Kasibabu, C, Fairfield
-V.J. King, F, Louisville

MORE NBA NEWS:

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Devante Smith-Pelly's new hockey pup is already a champion by name

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Devante Smith-Pelly's new hockey pup is already a champion by name

Stanley Cup champion and 2018 Washington Capitals playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly has gotten a dog.

Smith-Pelly named the husky-mix puppy Stanley, of course. Because what’s more valuable in life than championships and puppies?

Stanley is pictured above, courtesy of DSP’s mom.

Smith-Pelly posted the same picture on his Instagram story earlier in the week.

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