Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, the Braves’ ballyhooed middle infield of the future, became fast friends and carpooling mates during spring training. Now they’ll pick up where they left off, this time in Mississippi.
Braves fans in the Jackson, Miss., area can see the future begin to take shape after Albies was sent from Triple-A Gwinnett to Double-A Mississippi, not as a demotion but for the chance to play together with Swanson, who’s played shortstop there for two months since a promotion from advanced Single-A.
Albies will be at second base – he played second base in his past 23 games at Gwinnett – and Swanson will continue playing shortstop, another clear indication of the Braves’ long-term intentions at this point.
“I think if you’re seeing where Dansby is at shortstop and we’ve got Ozzie at second right now, and we’re going to go that way for the time being, that probably (portends) it going that way,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “But there isn’t anything set in stone. Right now if we were to call them both up (to the majors) right now, that’s the way it would be because that’s the way it’s going in the farm system.”
In their first game in the lineup together Thursday, Albies batted leadoff and went 3-for-5, and Swanson hit third and was 4-fo0r-5 with a triple in Mississippi’s 6-5 win against the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals.
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They entered the season as shortstops ranked among the top 25 prospects in all of baseball, with Swanson the Braves’ highest-rated prospect overall. The Braves started them out at different levels in order for each to continue playing shortstop until a decision was made regarding which player to move to second base.
They opted to switch Albies, 19, the undersized (about 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds) but wiry-strong Curacao native. The Braves wanted the two to play together again before a potential move up to the big leagues, which isn’t imminent but could happen later this summer.
“We just felt it was the best move at the time for them both,” Coppolella said. “We’re going to let them play and we can obvioiusly move them up at any point. We could call them up here at any point, too.”
Swanson, 22, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt, is a former Marietta High School standout who came to the Braves as part of the bounty they got from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Shelby Miller in a trade that shook up baseball’s Winter Meetings.
The Braves also got center fielder Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair in that deal.
Since Swanson has played only 92 games of minor league ball, and was hitting .254 with a .736 OPS in 49 games since moving up to Double-A. It made more sense to move Albies down to Double-A than have Swanson make another step up the ladder before the halfway point of the season.
Also, the two will be able to play together without as much media attention as there would’ve been if both were at Gwinnett.
Swanson hit .333 with a .967 OPS in 21 games at advanced Single-A Carolina before the move to Mississippi. He has three triples and five homers in 221 plate appearances in Double-A, and had nine hits in his past 23 at-bats before Thurday.
Albies began the season at Double-A and hit a robust .369 with a .954 OPS in 22 games before being promoted to Triple-A on April 30, the youngest player in the International League at that time. He hit a modest .248 with a .659 OPS in 247 plate appearances at Gwinnett.
Albies had 11 errors in 160 chances while playing shortstop at Gwinnett before moving to second base on June 5, then only five errors in 141 chances at second base.
During spring training, then-manager Fredi Gonzalez made it a point to play the two of them together almost every time they played in Grapefruit League games, with the two players taking turns at shortstop and second base. Albies usually rode to the ballpark with Swanson.
“I think it’s great,” Coppolella said of putting them together again. “You saw a lot of it during spring training where they really formed a bond. And to get to play together, it should be a fun team. They’ve got some really good players there (at Mississippi). We’ve got a great (pitching) staff there; I mean, you could say every starter there is a prospect.
“It’s a fun team to watch, and it should be great for them just to learn a little more about each other and hopefully win a lot of games.”