Southern notes: Albies, Swanson form bond

Braves hope middle-infield prospects develop together at Mississippi

The Braves hope Ozzie Albies (left) and Dansby Swanson will be side by side in Atlanta soon. (Ken Jancef, Ed Gardner)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | July 5, 2016 10:37 AM ET

Ozzie Albies wasn't sent back to Mississippi because he was overmatched in Triple-A. The Atlanta Braves just thought it was time for their double-play combination of the future to start playing together.

That could have meant moving up Dansby Swanson, the Braves' No. 1 prospect, to Triple-A Gwinnett to join No. 3 prospect Albies, who is just 19.

Instead, the Braves decided to have them pair up for the first time in Double-A.

"We just felt it was the best move at the time for them both," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We're going to let them play and we can obviously move them up at any point [to Triple-A]. We could call them up here [to Atlanta] at any point, too."

Atlanta fans would like nothing better than to get a glimpse of the highly touted pair before 2016 is over, although with the Braves moving to a new suburban ballpark, a 2017 debut for both is more likely.

The 22-year-old Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 Draft, is MLB.com's No. 6 overall prospect. The younger and smaller Albies, from Curacao, is No. 25.

The Braves kept them apart at the beginning of the season because they wanted both to play shortstop. Each was quickly moved up, with Swanson batting .333 the first month for Class A Advanced Carolina and Albies hitting .369 with Mississippi.

Albies' transition to the other side of the bag came at the beginning of June with Gwinnett, and he played 23 games at second base.

"I feel good there," he said.

Swanson is at shortstop and Albies is at second for Mississippi, which is likely where they will eventually play for Atlanta.

"I think if you're seeing where Dansby is at shortstop and we've got Ozzie at second right now, and we're going to go that way for the time being, that probably [portends] it going that way," Coppolella said. "But there isn't anything set in stone."

The first game with Albies and Swanson in the lineup together for Mississippi on June 30 couldn't have gone better. Albies, batting leadoff, was 3-for-5, and Swanson, hitting third, went 4-for-5 during 10-inning a 6-5 victory at Jackson.

The switch-hitting Albies led off the game with a single and Swanson brought him around to score with a triple. 

Albies had three hits in two of his first four games back with Mississippi, lifting his Southern League average to .382 in 26 games through Sunday. In 56 games with Gwinnett in the International League, Albies hit .248 and made 11 errors at shortstop.

"It was an adjustment," he said of the move up to a higher league. "But I was feeling good."

However, having Albies and Swanson team together for the first time at Double-A gave the Braves a level of comfort.

Swanson made the Southern League All-Star Game and will play in the All-Star Futures Game, but he has had his hot and cold stretches in Double-A. Through Sunday, the former D-backs prospect was batting .267 with a .347 on-base percentage and .414 slugging mark in 52 games with Mississippi.

Swanson and Albies became friends during Spring Training with the Braves. Now they will be paired every day.

"I think it's great," Coppolella said. "You saw a lot of it during Spring Training where they really formed a bond. And to get to play together, it should be a fun team.… It should be great for them just to learn a little more about each other and hopefully win a lot of games."

In brief

No. 20 for Palka: Chattanooga outfielder Daniel Palka hit his Southern League-best 20th home run Thursday at Pensacola, finishing with 13 homers and 30 RBIs in 26 June games. Palka, who hit .302 in June, extended his hitting streak to 10 games with hits in the first three games of July and was batting .275. In addition to leading the league in homers, he also was leading the circuit in RBIs (63), slugging percentage (.554) and strikeouts (96). Minnesota's No. 27 prospect was obtained from Arizona in a trade during the offseason after hitting 29 homers in the Class A Advanced California League a year ago. Palka, 24, was a third-round pick of the D-Backs out of Georgia Tech in the 2013 Draft.

Cooper on tear: Biloxi's Garrett Cooper had his second straight two-hit game and extended his hitting streak to 11 games on Sunday as he took over the Southern League batting lead with a .329 average. The first baseman/outfielder batted .373 in June, getting at least one hit in 20 of his 24 games. Cooper, 25, had a .390 on-base percentage and .472 slugging mark while driving in 45 runs in 73 games. He was a sixth-round choice by Milwaukee in the 2013 Draft out of Auburn University. The 6-foot-6 Alabama native was tied for second in the league with 22 doubles.

Whalen impresses: Right-hander Rob Whalen allowed one earned run or fewer for the seventh time in eight starts on Friday as Mississippi won, 3-1, at Jackson. Atlanta's No. 26 prospect gave up five hits and two walks over seven innings while striking out seven. Whalen, 22, improved to 6-5 with the victory and lowered his ERA to 2.34 in 16 starts. He had 83 strikeouts to 34 walks over 92 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .220 average. Whalen, a 12th-round pick by the Mets in the 2012 Draft, was obtained by the Braves last July along with fellow pitching prospect John Gant for veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson.

Peterson promoted: D.J. Peterson, Seattle's No. 6 prospect, was 12-for-26 with three homers and eight RBIs in his final seven games with Jackson before being moved June 29 to Triple-A Tacoma. The promotion came just before the first baseman was to play a second series against his younger brother, Mississippi outfielder Dustin Peterson. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2013 Draft out of the University of New Mexico raised his average to .271 from .251 during the stretch and had 21 doubles, 11 homers and 43 RBIs in 73 games after a slow start. Peterson, 24, batted .213 in April.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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