Scott Miller's Starting 9: Reloading Braves About to Add to Shortstop Wave

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Scott Miller's Starting 9: Reloading Braves About to Add to Shortstop Wave
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — Sunshine and grapefruit…

 

1. That's Dansby with an 'S'

First, there was the Houston Astros' Carlos Correa last summer. Then came the Cleveland Indians' Francisco Lindor, followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager. So when Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez recently challenged Dansby Swanson, the Braves prospect with the Great Gatsby name and the gold-plated future, you could almost hear a dream inflate.

Ralph Freso/Associated Press/Associated Press
Carlos Correa

In this boom time for young major league shortstops, might Swanson be ready to join them by spring's end?

"Don't come in here thinking you're just coming to big league camp," Gonzalez told the kid. "Come in here and make the team."

So what was the response?

"He looked me in the eye and said, 'OK,'" Gonzalez told Bleacher Report during a late-morning conversation here Tuesday.

Swanson, one of the pieces of precious-metal talent acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in December's Shelby Miller trade, is a stranger neither to the Braves nor to Gonzalez.

Last summer's first overall pick in the June draft played collegiately at Vanderbilt University, which is not far from Atlanta.

Gonzalez's son, Alex, and Swanson were teammates playing youth baseball in the nationally known Cobb County, Georgia, program. Swanson's father was their coach.

"His parents are off the charts," Gonzalez said.

At 22, Swanson is old enough to make an immediate impression (he's a year older than Correa) but young enough to still have plenty of room to grow (most likely, he'll begin the season no higher than Double-A).

If things go the way those in the industry expect, Swanson could join the aforementioned Correa, Seager and Lindor in a new golden age of shortstops.

Norm Hall/Getty Images

"I think it's awesome for baseball to see these young guys coming up," Swanson said. "And some of them already helped their teams in the playoffs. Seager, Lindor and Correa had great years, and it's good to even be mentioned in that group.

"There may be a lot of young talent now, but it doesn't happen without the mentorship of the veterans. They guide us."

Swanson mentioned veteran infielder Gordon Beckham, the former Chicago White Sox infielder who is trying to win a job with Atlanta this spring, as being particularly generous so far with his time and wisdom. Beckham already has told Swanson to closely watch the work habits of fellow shortstop Erick Aybar, whom Atlanta acquired from the Los Angeles Angels.

When it comes to learning and protocol, Swanson is all ears and open mind. The Braves love his makeup. When traveling secretary Chris Van Zant introduced himself to Swanson the other day, Swanson asked Van Zant to please walk him around and introduce him to all of the clubhouse workers, "everyone I need to know."

"That's special," Gonzalez said.

So are Swanson's skills. The Braves haven't had much time to see many of them yet. First base coach Terry Pendleton watched Swanson field about 50 ground balls the other day and was impressed, but he noted he has yet to see him swing a bat.

"Let me just say that his parents did a very good job with him. Very good," Pendleton said. "He's humble. Respectful. Confident.

"But, you've also got to have a little cocky confidence if you're going to do this right here."

Swanson has it, evidenced by his reply when B/R asked him whether seeing the success of age-group peers like Correa boosts his confidence.

"Honestly, if you need other people to give you confidence, it's backwards," Swanson said. "Then, you're obviously not confident enough in yourself.   

"I'm going to show confidence in my play, and make sure I'm ready to go from day one."

Most likely, unless Swanson kills it all spring, he will start in the minors. Atlanta expects to start Swanson at one affiliate, another top shortstop prospect, Ozhaino Albies, a 19-year-old from Curacao, at shortstop with a different affiliate and then spend the first part of the summer evaluating. Either Swanson or Albies could wind up at second base. However it plays out, the Braves expect the duo to comprise their middle infield for years to come.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press/Associated Press
John Coppolella

"This is my 10th year with the Braves, and we've never had this much young talent in one place at one time," general manager John Coppolella said. "If you look at our team, chances are we'll be better offensively at every spot on the field than we were last year."

The Braves have turned the two total combined years of service time they had remaining of Justin Upton and Jason Heyward into more than 50 years of service time with various deals over the past year, and now they're climbing the charts quicker than Adele: Baseball America ranked the Braves system as the third-best in the majors, up from 29th last year.

Look out. As with Swanson and the clubbies, introductions are in order. And soon.

"What the Johns are doing in the front office is going to set this organization up for a long time," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said, speaking of Coppolella, club president John Schuerholz and president of baseball operations John Hart.

 

2. Baptism by Fire in Toronto

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Jose Bautista

Welcome to the general manager chair, Ross Atkins. Now, about those Jose Bautista contract demands…

The man known as Joey Bats came out swinging upon arrival to camp, explaining to Toronto reporters Monday that he has given the team strict terms he expects to be met if the Blue Jays are to retain him. Bautista is eligible for free agency after this season and, according to TSN's Rick Westhead, is requesting a deal of at least five years and $150 million from Toronto.

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Ross Atkins

The Blue Jays GM did not appear to choke on his bird seedat least, not right away. But it was about that time rumors began running rampant that Toronto was about to acquire outfielder Jay Bruce in a three-way deal with Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Angels.

But by Tuesday, the rumored deal, in which outfielder Michael Saunders would have gone to the Angels and prospects would have gone to Cincinnati, had stalled. MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reported the reason for the snag was that one of the prospects going from Toronto to Cincinnati had a medical issue.

Bruce, in the last year of a six-year, $51 million deal, has a $13 million club option attached and presumably would give Toronto protection next year in the event the Jays and Bautista part ways.

 

3. More Competitive Than a Bagful of Spiders

Morry Gash/Associated Press/Associated Press
Rob Manfred

Speaking in Arizona the other day, commissioner Rob Manfred noted that "over the last five years, 80 percent of our teams have been in postseason play. That's a great number. That's a number that compares really favorably to all other professional sports, particularly given that we still have the most difficult system for a team to qualify for the postseason."

He's right, and it is to baseball's credit. The NFL played that parity card for years, but every time you look up, the New England Patriots or Denver Broncos are in another Super Bowl.

A total of 24 of baseball's 30 teams have played in the postseason during the past five years. Only the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres have been left behind.

 

4. Loudmouths Apply Here

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press/Associated Press
Nick Swisher

In camp with the Braves this spring are a trio of voluble talents: veteran closer Jason Grilli, coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon; outfielder Nick Swisher, whom sources say the Braves spent much of the winter attempting to trade; and outfielder Jeff Francoeur, the former Brave whom Atlanta re-signed this week to add depth.

"I think we've got the loudest team in the majors right now," Freeman quipped. "With Swisher, Grilli and Francoeur, it's going to be exciting at 7 a.m. every day."

 

5. Not Your Brother’s Tricycle

Word of Yoenis Cespedesnew ride spread so rapidly through the Grapefruit League on Tuesday that everybody seemed to know about it before the Mets outfielder even had parked this customized Polaris Slingshot (or, glorified tricycle?):

 

6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Yoenis Cespedes' car: Like the Batmobile, only more superhero-ish (see above).

2. The Yankees and the Sandman: Once, Mariano Rivera entered games to the rock song "Enter Sandman." Now, the Yankees simply schedule the Sandman to visit, not starting their spring workouts until late morning, while manager Joe Girardi preaches sleep.

3. Sunshine: Already feels like late spring in Florida. And when a small bit of rain falls, everyone freaks out.

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Pablo Sandoval

4. The Panda's Weight: Not that Pablo Sandoval is jiggling like Jell-O this spring, but word is the Red Sox are considering placing a plastic salad guard over third base at JetBlue Park.

5. Bryce Harper's Free Agency: He can't declare until after the 2018 season, but buzz already has the New York Yankees taking out a reverse mortgage on Yankee Stadium to be in position to grab him. Or something like that.

 

 7. The Ian Desmond Mystery

Tick, tick, tick goes the clock, and several free agents remain unsigned—including a man who played shortstop for some pretty darned good Washington Nationals clubs over the past couple of years.

Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Why Ian Desmond remains a free agent is anybody's guess. Some in the industry say it is because draft-pick compensation is tied to him, and fewer teams want to surrender a draft pick. Some say it is because Desmond's defense has slipped. Others say he's gotten old quickly (he's 30).

Still, Desmond easily was the best shortstop on the market this winter.

Yet, in a winter in which there were not that many clubs in need of a shortstop, the few that did went elsewhere. The Padres signed Alexei Ramirez. The Mets signed Asdrubal Cabrera. The White Sox signed former MVP Jimmy Rollins to a minor league deal. Arizona acquired Jean Segura in a trade with Milwaukee. The Angels acquired Andrelton Simmons in a deal with Atlanta (sending shortstop Erick Aybar to the Braves).

The Colorado Rockies, facing uncertainty as Jose Reyes is investigated under MLB's domestic-abuse policy (he was placed on paid leave Tuesday), and Tampa Bay Rays both are said to still have some interest in Desmond. The free agent started the winter looking for a lucrative, multiyear deal after turning down Washington's offer of seven years and $107 million during the winter following the 2013 season.

Desmond, presently in no-man's land, has developed into the offseason's biggest surprise. Harper blamed the qualifying-offer system this week, per Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com. Because Desmond declined the Nats' one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer for 2016, any team signing Desmond must forfeit a draft pick to Washington.

With camps opening, Desmond's best play right now looks to be signing a one-year deal with Colorado, if he can work it (say, for $10 million), use the altitude to help put up big offensive numbers and then go back into the free-agent market next winter.

 

8. Diamondbacks Employing Smartest Rotation in MLB?

You've heard of Phoenix University?

Well, in Phoenix, Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Collmenter played the part of university professor Tuesday by using a white board and "teaching" things involving Einstein and science to his teammates.

Check it out (sorry, I cannot guarantee that you will receive an online college credit):

 

9. No Excuses

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Chicago Cubs spent the most days on the 15-day disabled list last year at 674.

Noted by stats guru Bill Chuck over at Billy-Ball.com (and keep this in mind for your dark-horse playoff picks): The projected five-man Cleveland rotation, all right-handed, crushes lefties. Their WHIPs versus left-handed batters last summer: Corey Kluber (1.275), Carlos Carrasco (1.060), Danny Salazar (1.102), Trevor Bauer (1.374) and Cody Anderson (1.195).

 

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day

Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

Big congratulations to Atlanta Braves fan Jason Isbell on winning the Grammy for Best Americana Album earlier this month…

I've been working here, Monday it'll be a year

And I can't recall a day when I didn't wanna disappear

But I keep on showing up, hell-bent on growing up

If it takes a lifetime

I'm learning how to be alone, fall asleep with the TV on

And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone

I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by

If it takes a lifetime

I got too far from my raising, I forgot where I come from

And the line between right and wrong was so fine

Well I thought the highway loved me

But she beat me like a drum

My day will come, if it takes a lifetime

—Jason Isbell, "If It Takes a Lifetime"

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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