ATLANTA -- Highly regarded catching prospect Christian Bethancourt headlines the group of five players the Braves have added to their 40-man roster. The other additions were right-handed pitchers Zeke Spruill, Cory Rasmus, David Hale and Aaron Northcraft.
Major League Baseball's deadline to protect players is Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. ET. Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five years or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years old are to be protected within four years.
Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Rule 5 Draft, to be held on Dec. 6 at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings in Nashville. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
Atlanta now has 36 players on its 40-man roster.
The Braves have signed veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird with the expectation that he will serve as their starting catcher for most of April while Brian McCann recovers from right shoulder surgery. Bethancourt will be among the candidates who could begin next season as Laird's backup.
But the expectations are that the Braves will give the 21-year-old Bethancourt -- ranked No. 2 on MLB.com's Top 20 Braves prospects list -- a chance to spend most of the 2013 season enhancing his offensive skills at the Minor League level. His rifle arm and great athletic skills have drawn rave reviews from a defensive standpoint. But he hit .243 with a .566 OPS while playing 71 games with Double-A Mississippi last year.
Bethancourt broke his left hand when he was hit with a pitch in early August. But after allowing the injury to heal for two months, he has spent the past couple of weeks playing in the Dominican Winter League. In 11 games with Licey, he has batted .286 (8-for-28) with three doubles.
Spruill caught the attention of manager Fredi Gonzalez during Spring Training, and then posted a 3.67 ERA in 27 starts for Mississippi this past summer. The 23-year-old right-hander from suburban Atlanta posted a 3.63 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .250 in seven starts during this year's Arizona Fall League.
Hale produced some encouragement while serving as a full-time starting pitcher for the first time in his career this year. The 25-year-old product of Princeton University posted a 3.77 ERA in 27 starts with Mississippi. He recorded 124 strikeouts and issued 67 walks in 145 2/3 innings.
Rasmus has endured an injury-plagued career since being selected by the Braves in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. The 25-year-old right-hander posted a 3.68 ERA and recorded 62 strikeouts while issuing 32 walks in 58 2/3 relief innings with Mississippi this year. He surrendered 18 hits and 12 earned runs in 14 innings during the AFL.
Northcraft compiled a 3.98 ERA in 27 starts for Class Advanced Lynchburg this year. The 22-year-old right-hander recorded 160 strikeouts and issued 53 walks in 151 2/3 innings.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.