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Who represents the future at Shortstop for the Braves?

Upon acquiring Dansby Swanson, the Braves opened an interesting can of worms in regards to the future of Ozhaino Albies. Either player would make for a great defensive shortstop, so who ends up getting the job?

Ozhaino Albies was the Braves lone Futures Game representative this year
Ozhaino Albies was the Braves lone Futures Game representative this year
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It's pretty hard to find two players who come from situations as different as Ozhaino Albies and Dansby Swanson. While both have quickly become highly regarded shortstop prospects, how they got there is just a bit different.

Albies story is becoming all the more common in baseball, as he was an international signing out of Curacao as a 16 year old two years ago. He came in with questions about his size, and was a pretty lowly regarded prospect and received a basic $300k signing bonus. The Braves believed in the youngster's bat highly enough to jump him over the Dominican Summer League, and after a torrid start in Orlando he was jumped to the Danville Braves as a 17 year old. That set the stage for his 18 year old season in Rome during which he spent most of the year leading the minor leagues in hits before a thumb injury late in the season slowed him down, and he vaulted his way up the prospect boards of ever major publication. While questions still linger about his generously-listed 5'9" stature, it has become clear to many evaluators that Albies is just the special kind of talent to overcome his physical deficiencies. So clear, in fact, that John Coppolella said that Albies could be in Atlanta as soon as this year.

Swanson was a more typically regarded prospect. There were never questions about his size, and after turning down the Rockies after being a 38th rounder in 2012 he enrolled in the baseball powerhouse that is Vanderbilt University. 1 year went by quietly for Swanson, and then as a sophomore he burst onto the college scene with a fantastic year capped by a national championship and the honors of College World Series MVP. As a Junior he was even better, showing some power with 15 home runs and solidifying himself as a top draft prospect. He was taken first overall in the draft by Arizona and signed for $6.5 million. He instantly became one of the top prospects in professional baseball and showed that with a solid performance in his first pro season. The Braves then swung him over to their side in the Shelby Miller tr(obbery)ade early this season where he is now poised to take over the shortstop position in Atlanta as early as 2017.

Offensive comparison

Ozhaino Albies is exactly the player his body type would suggest-a speedy leadoff type with incredible bat skills. He lacks home run power but is far from a weak player-with plenty of bat speed and strength to handle harder pitching and good gap power. He is a patient, advanced hitter for his age with a good understanding of the strike zone, though he can get a bit aggressive at times. His calling card is his innate ability to get the barrel of his bat on a baseball. He is one of the best pure hitters in the entire minor leagues. He backs those skills up with plus plus speed that allows him to steal plenty of bases, though at this stage his baserunning skills can be a bit of a work in progress. Regardless, it is almost certain that Albies is viewed by the organization as the ideal future leadoff man.

Dansby Swanson has the type of all around offensive skill set that has drawn comparisons to Derek Jeter, and even if that is a bit overblown it says plenty about his abilities, He shows great patience at the plate and has a line drive swing that should make him a .300 hitter in his prime. He even flashes better than major league average power at time, and though his current swing will limit his home run production he could be a 20 home run hitter in his prime. Should he move to 3rd base he could add even more power to his frame, as at 6'0 170 he has room to grow. Swanson even has plus speed, and though he likely won't steal 40 bases he is a seriously heady baserunner who is very good at taking extra bases. Swanson is the protype for the player you would want hitting in that 2 spot behind Albies, and a Ozzie-Dansby-Freddie combo could be hell for opposing pitchers.

Defensive Comparison

This is where the real decision will have to be made for the Braves. Both players have the defensive abilities to stick at shortstop long term, and both would be fine options at second base as well. The only thing we know is that one will have to move if they are to coexist, and with both likely starting in Carolina next year the Braves may tip their hand with who they think will be the future at shortstop.

Both players have skills up the middle. Each possess smooth, quick hands that allow them to adjust to bad hops and throws. They both have the same smooth controlled footwork and are seemingly always getting in the right position to make the plays they need to make.

Let's compare the skills

Footwork

Both players are young and developing defensively, but show signs of great coaching and practice in this phase of the game. Albies always gets his feet set properly and always seems to have his momentum moving towards first base on throws, which helps him immensely. Swanson has good footwork around second base and does a good job of getting his body moving in the right direction, but he occasionally shows some holes. There are times when he seems to throw on the run for no particular reason, and while he is very good at it he seems to be consciously making the decision to not set his feet. It's not a lack of ability, I've seen him do it right plenty of times. Honestly, I haven't a clue why he sometimes throws off balance on routine ground balls.

Advantage: Ozhaino Albies

Arm Strength

This is a really tight race, as both can pretty much make any throw they need to. I've seen both make off balance throws going to their left, and have seen both make deep throws in the hole. Neither has an Andrelton Simmons arm, but both do the job. I give an ever-so-slight edge to Ozhaino Albies here, though that admittedly is mostly due to a more thorough scouting evaluation

Advantage: Ozhaino Albies

Arm Accuracy

This is where the true separation takes place for Swanson. He can take any play and throw a dart to the first baseman with no issue. He throws on the run, moving to his left, moving to his right, or just normal throws. Albies is still raw with his arm and tends to make wild throws. Most of his errors as a professional have been throwing errors, and while he seems to have made improvements there is no signs that this will be an incredibly easy problems to fix. In the end, this seems the most likely thing to cause one of them to move off the shortstop position.

Advantage: Dansby Swanson

Glove Work

This is even more equal than the arm strength. Both have soft hands and make every play smoothly and easily. They get the ball turned to second base well, and take throws at second base well. If the ball goes in the direction of either player it is an almost guarantee to be scooped up.

Advantage: Even

Instincts

The first thing I notice when I watch Ozhaino Albies play is his positioning and reactions. He seems to know where balls are going and reacts to them with as quick a first step as anyone I've seen. His instincts in the field are off the charts good, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the minor leagues who is a more natural defender than Albies. Swanson as well has natural abilities. He positions himself to make all the plays he needs to make and does a good job of getting jumps on balls. Swanson has great instincts, but it's just hard to find someone who plays like Albies.

Advantage: Ozhaino Albies

Range

Not only does Albies have first step quickness, but he has speed to burn and can get to nearly any ball hit. His plus plus speed plays up at the shortstop position. Swanson is not limited himself at shortstop, and moves well to both sides. In fact I feel his speed better plays in the infield that on the base paths and he always seems to get to balls you wouldn't expect many shortstops to get to.

Advantage; Ozhaino Albies

Baseball IQ

When you watch Dansby play you instantly can tell that he knows exactly what he is doing. He plays with a level-headed confidence and always knows what play he needs to make. He let's loose on throws when he has to, and on other occasions he realizes when he can let up and focus on his accuracy. That last point is a major issue for Albies and goes hand in hand with his throwing accuracy problems. He puts everything he has into every throw and that leads him to throw aways. That's not to say that Albies isn't a smart player, if anything that's just inexperience. Albies knows how to play the game and like Swanson never really lets situations get in his head. That said, he still has some learning to do that Swanson did at the college level

Advantage: Dansby Swanson

Overall

Honestly this is a toss up on which you prefer. Swanson has the higher floor of the two, as he is an advanced player with a mature knowledge of the game and a great overall skillset to go along with that. He is going to be an above average to plus defender and there is not much that can be done about that. He is who he is and any changes that are made will be just minor tweaking. Ozzie is a much more hit or miss player. Should he solve his throwing error problem he could very well be one of the top 2 or 3 shortstops in baseball on the defensive side. If he cannot, he may be relegated to just above average or even being relegated to second base. If I had to play 1 at shortstop right now it would be Dans, but if we're talking 2020, well Albies may just have a shot.

Intangibles

Both players stand out here. While I only have second hand accounts to go by with Swanson, all reports are positive on the personality of the young man. He hustles hard on the field, never taking a play off and never breaking focus. He knows what he has to do and he does even more, something you have to value in a player. I can claim to have seen first hand who Ozhaino Albies is, and it makes me love him as a prospect even more. He is always one to go the extra mile for fans, and comes off as a humble, approachable guy who just loves what he does for a living. Like Swanson, he works and hustles hard. Both are model athletes that every manager and player loves to have around.

Predictions

Let me preface this by saying that I have zero clue what the Braves actual plans are. We're clearly rebuilding, but just how and when they plan on spending that extra money to try and compete again is a bit lost on me.

Dansby Swanson:

It would shock me if Dansby Swanson isn't the starting shortstop at some point in 2017. If the Braves feel he will be necessary and that the team can compete for a playoff spot, Dansby will open the year at the 6 in the new stadium, hope still fresh in the minds of those who have waited months for regular season baseball. Once he is in the lineup he won't go anywhere. He will be an immediate contributor to the offense and defense and should set himself up to be one of the faces of the franchise. If the front office doesn't feel so strongly about the opportunity to make the playoffs, there is a good chance they hold him down for service time reasons. Either way, Dansby is the future at shortstop and the future is pretty close.

Ozhaino Albies:

The Swanson pickup should allow Albies to take a more typical path to Atlanta with both Swanson and Jace Peterson ahead of him (though if Jace beats him out for a second base spot the FO needs to deeply evaluate their lives). An aggressive estimate could have him as high as AA next year and a September call up in 2017. Then 2018 is his debut as the future at the leadoff spot in Atlanta. At that point he would be just 21, so a more conservative estimate says he doesn't take his permanent place until early to mid 2019.


So...Who plays shortstop?

The question that has dominated comment sections and twitter replies is "Will Albies move to second base now?" This opens a lot of potential scenarios that we can play out

1. Yes, Ozhaino Albies is now a permanent second baseman

This seems the most likely solution at this point, as it will be nearly impossible to unseat Swanson once he takes his stranglehold on shortstop. Unless Swanson comes in and suddenly turn into Ian Desmond it seems almost certain that he will take his position and hold through at least his six years of team control. After that Albies may have a year or 2 left of control and could take over Swanson's place if the Braves don't resign him, though guys like Derian Cruz could very well be ready at that point. Even if the Braves do resign Swanson, he would be around 28 at that point and may no longer have the range to play shortstop and could move to third base or left field like Hanley Ramirez (only way better. Just the first guy I thought of). Swanson could be an elite third baseman, so this could be a fun timetable to deal with.

2. Dansby Swanson moves back to second base

Let's not forget Swanson's experience at second base in college. He played his entire sophomore season there and was quite good. This would be the move that would lead to the least amount of relearning for both parties, though it would be a short term loss for the team. It will likely be a few years before Albies is the better shortstop, and would force the Braves to take their now veteran (assuming Albies takes over in 2019) that he is no longer the shortstop. As much as I love Albies, I still believe that you have to earn your job no matter who you are. I still think Albies has the higher defensive ceiling but to completely disregard Dansby like that would be a tough decision for any staff.

3. Dansby Swanson Moves to Third Base

This would be completely and solely based on the massive crush the front office has on Jace Peterson. Do I think Jace Peterson is a serviceable major league player? Of course I do. Do I think he deserves the love he keeps getting from the front office? He has yet to earn it in my eyes. Either way, the front office loves him and may love him enough to keep him through our key years. If Rio Ruiz fails to produce (I still believe heavily that he is a good ballplayer) then this actually might not be a horrible idea. Austin Riley would still be a couple of years (at least, if he does pan out) from taking over, as would Maitan if the Braves manage to sign him. If Ruiz fails, that leaves a hole the Braves either have to fill through trades or free agent signings. None of these really appeal all that much, so why not give Dansby a shot? He would be a great defender at the hot corner, and should hit more than well enough to be a corner infielder. If this is a permanent move, it could allow him to bulk up and be an even greater power threat. 20+ Dansbombs a year and great defense? Sign Me up. I don't see this as a realistic outcome, but it is something the Braves could be smart to consider.

4. Dansby Swanson moves to left field

Swanson would have to learn on the run very quickly, but it's not like he doesn't have the athleticism to do it. The outfield options for 2017 currently look to be Hector Olivera, Ender Inciarte, Mallex Smith, and Nick Markakis. With Markakis seeming to be a trade candidate and Olivera having questionable health and upside, this could clear a path in left field that Swanson could potentially take over. There is almost zero chance this actually happens, but it's fun to think about.

5. Just as Albies reaches the cusp of the major leagues, the Braves trade him and Sean Newcomb to the Dodgers for a 30 year old Cuban with no major league experience.

I don't wanna talk about this option

Seriously, just tell us what happens already

I'm gonna put on my magical fortune teller hat and say that option 1 has roughly a 75% chance of happening. Option 2 is clearly the most viable of the secondary options, but I just think the questions surrounding Albies arm are gonna make the position a first come-first serve situation. I don't think the Braves would lose by making any of those moves (minus the trade). It's a great problem to have and no matter the combination the Braves should have at least 4 years of one of the best fouble play/1-2-3 combos in baseball. It would be short-sighted of the team to automatically assign Dansby the shortstop position for the next 6 years, as a nice positional competition could really create an interesting atmosphere. That is likely what will happen, so get ready for a lot of "Dansby Swanson-SS" in the box score.

Also, Ozhaino Albies wore number 7 in the minor leagues this year. Dansby wore number 7 in college and with the Hillsboro Hops. Poor Ozzie is gonna get shafted out of everything he wants just by being a year or 2 late.

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