Braves still weighing options in Swanson-Albies position debate

The Atlanta Braves enter the 2016 season with an enviable situation in terms of organizational depth at shortstop. The prevailing question throughout the team’s spring camp: Who will move?

The Braves’ top two position prospects, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, not only shared a locker early in camp, they inhabit similar future roles: Promising middle-infield talent for a franchise desperate for star power. Team executives have hinted at 2016 MLB possibilities for both players, but it’s a safe assumption that the franchise still has a year to sort out its future defensive alignment.

The team rotated Swanson and Albies between the two positions before they were sent to minor-league camp last week, and it’s an option that Braves president of baseball operations John Hart is not ruling out as the season nears.

"I think we’ve looked at it two different ways," Hart said on Thursday. "One: Do we start them both at the same level and we play one guy at shortstop for a week and the other guy at second base and let them get a feel for both? Let them kinda come up together? Or do we say, ‘We have a great gift here and we’ve got two outstanding shortstops,’ separate them, let them both play, look up sometime at midseason, sometime in mid-July and try to make a decision then?

"That’s yet to be determined."

Swanson, the team’s consensus No. 1 prospect, played second base during his sophomore year at Vanderbilt, but both players have profiled as top-tier shortstops during their pro careers to date. Swanson is two years older than Albies, but neither have played above A-ball in their young careers and could conceivably be stationed at the same minor-league affiliate at some point this season.

Hart made it clear that, whatever the decision, both players are capable of handling the transition athletically.

"They’re two different types of shortstops, quite frankly," Hart said. "Swanson’s more of an American shortstop: He makes the routine plays, he’s more traditional. Albies has electric feet, very quick hands.

"I think either one of them can transition up the middle, whether it’s shortstop or second base. They both have sure hands. It’s not like one of them is so much better defensively with his hands. They’ve both got great hands. They both can throw. They’re both very smart players. I don’t think we can go wrong either way."

Earlier in the interview, Hart discussed the team’s pitching situation at the major-league level.

He expressed confidence in his staff’s offseason work on the bullpen — although he did note veteran reliever Jim Johnson’s velocity is down after suffering a double hernia in the offseason — and that the rotation is starting to take shape behind the likes of Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler.

"We’ve seen some great things from Mike Foltynewicz. He’s behind right now. He’s behind, he had that rib taken out and didn’t get to do a lot in the winter," Hart said. "But I saw him throw four innings the other day over in (a game against) Houston and it was real good. We’ll probably take our time and go a little slower with Mike."

As for some other candidates in the Nos. 4 and 5 spot, Hart praised Williams Perez’s work in camp and was positive, if noncommittal, on veteran Jhoulys Chacin’s place in the pecking order.

"We brought in two guys that had some level of experience — one was Kyle Kendrick, the other was Chacin. Chacin, since the first day, has come in and thrown the ball really well. Our scouts liked what they saw when he was in Colorado. I’m close with his manager last year, Phil Nevin. He had some big-league time, but he pitched in (Triple-A) Reno last year for Phil and Phil really liked him, too.

"He’s done a good job for us. He’s got a chance."