Even with a hot prospect playing behind him, Brandon Phillips is more than happy to be playing in the city he calls his own.
A product of Redan in Stone Mountain, the veteran second baseman has always wanted to play for his hometown Atlanta Braves. He gained that opportunity last month when the Braves picked him up in a deal that sent two minor league pitchers to Cincinnati.
One of several veterans brought in during the offseason to fill positions the Braves are still trying to develop through their farm system, Phillips returns home as top-level prospect Ozzie Albies works his way through the system.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Phillips, who is entering his 16th season in the majors, time previously spent with Cleveland and Cincinnati. “I think the Braves put a team here that can get us to win right now. I’m happy that they gave me the opportunity to do that for this team and this city, and hopefully I can go out there and produce. We have a great group of guys, we have some veterans and we have some young guys, and I hope we can all put it together and put on for our city.”
With Albies’ development slowed a bit by a fractured elbow suffered during the minor league postseason in September, Phillips was brought in to give Albies proper time to get ready for big league play.
Phillips has been starting at second during spring training, with Albies coming on in later innings. Albies has shown some pop coming off the injury, picking up his first extra-base hit of the spring in Saturday’s game against a split squad from Detroit, a double in his first plate appearance.
“He’s come back from the injury really well,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s doing exactly what we need him to do. We’re just trying to work him in the more we can behind Brandon. He’s right where he needs to be.”
Phillips, a career .275 hitter, was batting .294 with a home run and six RBI in 34 at-bats heading into Monday’s game against Miami. Albies was at .400 in 15 at-bats, with his .526 on-base percentage the third-highest on the team.
Once Albies comes up to the big leagues, the Braves likely will have a double-play combination that will stick around for a while. Shortstop Dansby Swanson, who is working through back issues and took Monday’s game off after returning to action in Sunday’s loss to St. Louis, made his big league debut last August after being taken as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 major league draft by Arizona.
With Swanson likely the everyday shortstop, Albies switched from shortstop to second base last season.
“It was hard at first,” Albies said. “I never played second before. Day by day, going out there, I felt more comfortable.
“The future looks great. We’re just going to do what we’ve got to do to win ballgames.”
Until Albies gets the call, Phillips is eager to take advantage of the opportunity to play for his hometown team.
“As long as we stay healthy, we can surprise a lot of people,” Phillips said. “I’m really loving to be home, and I hope we can go out there and put on for our city.”