LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves saw enough from Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies during Spring Training to strengthen their confidence that these two elite prospects could form a double-play combo in Atlanta within the next year. Now, they must decide how to best develop these two high-impact shortstops.
After seeing Swanson and Albies develop a strong bond and friendship during their time in camp, the Braves flirted with the idea of pairing the two together on the same Minor League team and having them periodically alternate between middle-infield spots. But it now seems more likely that they will be separated and given the chance to both play shortstop on a daily basis.
"If we didn't have Swanson, we feel great about Albies as our future shortstop," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We also feel great about having Swanson as our future shortstop. It's a good problem to have, but we want to make sure we do the right thing for these kids, because whatever is right for them is going to be right for the Braves."
If the Braves do separate the two, Albies will likely begin the season with Double-A Mississippi and Swanson with Class A Advanced Carolina.
Though they provided indication they are close to being Major League ready as they experienced their first big league camp, both of these young shortstops are still in the early stages of their development. The 19-year-old Albies has totaled 678 plate appearances as a pro and has not played above the Class A level. Swanson played just 22 regular-season games for Class A Hillsboro after the D-backs selected him with the No. 1 selection in last summer's Draft.
When Spring Training began, it was obvious that Albies had benefited from having more professional experience. But as camp progressed, Swanson quickly grew more comfortable with his new surroundings and showed why MLBPipeline.com ranks him as the club's top prospect and baseball's eighth-best prospect. Albies ranks third and 29th on the same lists.
"They have great off-field talent and great on-field makeup," Coppolella said. "These guys are winners. They bring an energy to the field that helps you win games. We haven't had these kind of leadoff, up-the-middle talents since Rafael Furcal."
The Furcal comparison seems more fitting of the 5-foot-6, 160-pound Albies, whose speed and offensive approach could enable him to one day serve as Atlanta's leadoff hitter. Swanson, whose discipline and baseball IQ will provide value in the field and at the plate, seems to project more as a two-hole hitter.
At some point, the Braves will need to determine which of these middle infielders will play shortstop when they both reach Atlanta. But for now, they will allow the decision to be influenced by the natural physical maturity Albies will continue to experience and the added comfort Swanson will gain as he better acquaints himself to professional baseball.
Though many fans will spend the next few months wondering if Swanson and Albies could arrive at the Major League level within the upcoming season, the Braves are simply going to allow these two top prospects a chance to evolve at their own pace and prepare for that opportunity to spend many years playing alongside each other in Atlanta.
"We're in the same boat," Swanson said. "We just want to play well, learn from each other and compete."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.