LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Dansby Swanson will share a locker with fellow shortstop prospect Ozzie Albies at spring training, the projected future of the Braves’ up-the-middle defense getting acquainted in close quarters for at least the opening weeks of camp.
“I just heard he’s a really good guy, “Swanson said, smiling, “and that he’s pretty darn good. So that’s a good combination.”
When Braves pitchers and catchers officially reported to spring training Friday, Swanson was among early arriving position players also in camp, along with left fielder Hector Olivera, second baseman Jace Peterson and third-base prospect Rio Ruiz.
They were five days ahead of reporting day for position players, and the foursome worked out informally in the batting cages and back fields.
“It’s just good to be down here and be with the guys. It’s good to meet everyone and finally be in the organization,” Swanson said. “It’s always nice to be back in a competitive environment. Just being down here and officially being able to wear a Braves uniform is pretty sweet.”
It’s been a while since a prospect not projected to make the team out of spring training created as much anticipation among fans and others as has Swanson. The last to cause a similar buzz might have been another Atlanta-area product, Jason Heyward.
Swanson, a former Marietta High and Vanderbilt star, was the No. 1 selection in last year’s June draft by the Diamondbacks. The Braves got him in the trade that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona and brought back a load of talent to Atlanta that also included outfielder Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair, who’s also in major league spring training and could crack the Braves rotation in 2016.
Inciarte will have the more immediate impact for the Braves, but Swanson is the one that so many fans and others will be watching closely this spring. When ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated the Braves’ farm system as the best in baseball, the seven Braves in his top 100 prospects list were led by Swanson (No. 13) and Albies (No. 20).
Albies just turned 19, hasn’t played above low Single-A, and is probably at least two years away from pushing for a spot on the big-league club. Swanson has only 99 plate appearances in the minors, all at the rookie level, his debut having been delayed several weeks after he was hit in the face by a pitch in batting practice.
But Swanson, after spending three years at Vanderbilt in the best conference in college baseball, might not need much more polishing at the minor league level. Some believe he could make his debut at some point during the 2016 season, and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez stoked that thought by saying recently that it could be sooner than later.
“Honestly I have no idea,” Swanson said. “Just go out and play. Be the best I can be. If you can focus on that each and every day…. If you start putting some physical goals on that and you don’t meet them, it just brings you down a little bit. So it’s just better to, every day, work for the now and enjoy what you can.”
Either Swanson or Albies is expected to eventually move to second base, but for now both will continue at shortstop.
The Braves have almost completely revamped their top-30 prospects list in the past 15 months through a bevy of trades and draft picks, and the vast majority of those — including Swanson, Blair and Ruiz — are non-roster invitees to major league spring, along with some others already on the 40-man roster.
Until the Braves start making camp roster cuts in a few weeks, many of the prospects who could develop into the core of Braves team in coming years will have a chance to work together alongside current big-league players and in front of the major league staff and front-office officials. A chance to make a good impression as well as for many of them to get to know future teammates they might’ve only met so far at FanFest or the team’s prospect workshop in December.
“I think it’s really important, just because the younger guys can hopefully build a core and be able to contribute later on,” Swanson said. “I think the better team chemistry you have, the better chance you have to win at all levels. And that’s the important part, is just being able to win, wherever you are. We’ve just got to spend a lot of time here together and a lot of time outside of here together, to build that bond.”