There’s no mistaking the upward trajectory the Atlanta Braves are on heading into the 2017 season.
Winning 12 of 14 games to close out the previous season does that sort of thing for a franchise. So does an influx of young talent from the minors, as well as the hiring of a skipper who knows how to handle that talent.
Sure, there’s returning talent along the lines of Freddie Freeman. There’s also the addition of veteran pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey to help give a young pitching staff some direction.
But make no mistake: The talk at Braves spring training is all about the youngsters. Names like Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies are drawing the bulk of the attention.
The biggest question right now at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex is the health of Swanson, the Braves’ shortstop who broke into the majors last season with a .302 batting average. Back pain has him out of the lineup, although he took batting practice Saturday morning prior to the Braves’ spring training game against Detroit.
Swanson went 2-for-3 with a home run Saturday in a minor league game on one of the outer fields of the Wide World of Sports complex.
“That’s a good sign,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Hopefully they clear him and we can get him in there (Sunday) and start the process again.
“He had a really strenuous workout and the whole thing (Saturday) morning early, then batting practice and all that.”
Swanson and Albies have the potential to form a dynamic double-play combination down the road. Albies split time between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last season, batting .292 while converting from shortstop to second base.
Heading into Saturday’s action, Albies was batting .364 in 11 at-bats, while Swanson was hitting .438 in 16 at-bats. Albies doubled in his first at-bat Saturday, entering the Braves’ 7-5 loss in the seventh inning.
One of these days, the Swanson-Albies combination is going to pay off. The question is, how soon?
Obviously, there’s desire for the Braves to start out hot. SunTrust Park is about to open, and opening a new park with a string of wins is something every franchise desires. But is it worth pushing the development of young players too fast?
That’s the balancing act Snitker and the Braves’ front office will have to manage.
For the Braves, this setup of potential young stars was intentional. The franchise knew it was going to go through some down times as it rebuilt its farm system. But that system is now rebuilt, and it’s a matter of time before those prospects play out at the big league level.
They certainly have the manager to pull something like this off. Snitker, the former Macon Braves manager in his first spring training as the skipper of the big club, knows how to nurture young talent.
His task, as well as the task of the front office, will be to measure when it’s time to bring up the young talent. Too fast, and it could be crash and burn. Too slow, and the big league team will be held back.
Running the Atlanta Braves this season certainly will be a balancing act, and finding the approach that will work just right will be the key.
That said, there’s every reason Braves fans should be optimistic ... and not just because it’s spring.
“As long as the guys are healthy,” Snitker said. “Knock on wood, they are.”