Albies, Swanson, Smith stellar so far at camp

Prospects' level of play suggests earlier-than-expected move to Majors

Albies, Swanson, Smith stellar so far at camp

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though they will all likely begin the upcoming season in the Minors, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Mallex Smith have spent the first week of the Grapefruit League season providing more reason to wonder if each of them might reach the Majors at some point this year.

"I wouldn't rule anything out right now," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "They have all been very impressive, and I don't think they could have shown any better than they have."

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It is never wise to put too much stock in Spring Training results, especially those compiled during the first week of the exhibition season. But if nothing else, Albies, Swanson and Smith -- who got playing time in the Braves' 9-5 loss to the Astros on Wednesday -- have proven to be the best group of position player prospects the Braves have brought to camp since a couple of 19-year-old kids named Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman arrived on the scene seven years ago.

All three of these prospects played a part in the two-run ninth-inning rally that provided the Braves with a 5-4 win over the Mets on Tuesday. Unfazed by the fact he had popped out with a pair of runners in scoring position in the sixth, Smith delivered a leadoff double and advanced to third when Albies grounded out to the right side. This set the stage for Swanson to produce a game-tying two-out double and score on Emilio Bonifacio's walk-off single.

"They've been up here the whole time, and I'm going to try to keep them up here as long as we can," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's nice to get a glimpse of them and put them in situations. … It's nice to see those guys progress. You see the talent and the ability. They'll let us know when they're ready, but I've really been impressed with all three of those young men."

Though the offseason addition of Ender Inciarte might have initially created reason to wonder if Smith's ascent to the Majors could be delayed, the speedy center fielder has spent the past couple weeks rekindling thoughts that he could certainly join Atlanta's roster before the All-Star break. The 22-year-old outfielder has become a more polished defender, and he has also displayed offensive potential, producing multi-hit games in two of the three games within which he's registered at least three at-bats.

According to MLBPipeline.com, Swanson ranks as the game's No. 8 prospect and Albies now ranks No. 29. They will play for different Minor League affiliates to begin this season, because the Braves want both to play shortstop. But in anticipation of them becoming Atlanta's double-play combo at some point in the future, one will eventually make the switch to second base.

Lalli throws out Aplin

Swanson has played just 22 regular-season games at the professional level since being the first selection in the 2015 Draft. He is three years older than the 19-year-old Albies, who has been the most impressive prospect in Braves camp this year.

If the Braves are confident that Swanson and Albies will be in Atlanta at the start of the 2017 season, there is certainly a chance both could be brought to the Majors when the active roster expands in September.

Atlanta certainly does not want to lose controllable years with Swanson or Albies by rushing them to the Majors. But Coppolella said service time will not be a deterrent if either provides indication he is Major League-ready at some point this season.

"You don't know what is going to happen," Coppolella said. "You can always sign young guys to long-term deals. Sometimes, when you bring up prospects early, they're more willing to sign long-term because they know you didn't hold them hostage or try to manipulate them in any way."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.