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Coppolella: Ozzie Albies is huge part of Braves’ future

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Braves general manager John Coppolella said second-base prospect Ozzie Albies needn’t worry about being blocked by recently acquired veteran Brandon Phillips or anyone else.

After Albies broke the olecranon bone on the tip of his right elbow while swinging in a Double-A playoff game in September, the Braves signed versatile veteran Sean Rodriguez in November to play second base while Albies came back from surgery and continued his development in the minors.

And after Rodriguez injured a shoulder in a car accident and the Braves learned last week that Rodriguez would need surgery, they traded for veteran Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips on Sunday. The Braves traded only two minor league pitchers (non-prospects) to get Phillips, 35, ntering the final year of his contract. The Reds are also paying $13 million of his $14 million salary.

“Having Brandon Phillips means that we don’t have to rush Ozzie Albies,” Coppolella said. “It’d be one thing if you don’t want to rush him as a prospect, but coming back from a big injury you totally don’t want to rush him. I mean, it’s something where, why would we put one of our best prospects, who’s a huge part of our future, at any sort of risk just to win a few more games? We need to do what’s best for our prospects.”

Albies, who turned 20 last month, is rated the No. 11 prospect in Baseball America’s preseason Top 100. The Braves have the top-rated farm system and he’s their second-rated prospect behind shortstop Dansby Swanson, his friend and teammate at Double-A Mississippi before Swanson was called up in August. If Albies hadn’t gotten hurt, he might have been called up in September and be competing for an opening-day starting job now.

Albies had to miss four months after surgery and hasn’t been cleared for full baseball activities, but he’s in camp and has been advancing in his rehab programs, throwing from 120 feet and hitting light-tossed balls in the batting cage. He hopes to be ready to play in spring-training games by mid-March, though there’s no timetable and he’ll begin the season either in the minor leagues or continuing his rehab until he’s ready to play in the minors.

The Braves haven’t ruled out calling him up at some point in 2017 if he’s ready, but for now the second-base job belongs to Phillips.

“It goes back to when we signed these three veteran starting pitchers,” Coppolella said, referring to the offseason additions of Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia. “We had to kind of rush some (young guys) last year and force-feed some starting pitchers. We were in spots where we had a starting spot coming up in a day or two and we wouldn’t know who was going to be in that spot. It’s kind of like you’re just, all right, let’s try this guy.

“Now, whether it’s with the starting pitchers, whether it’s with Brandon Phillips, we feel like we have flexibility and strength and options to where we can actually deal from an area of strength and put people in the spots that they should be in rather than trying to rush guys. I think what it means for Ozzie is, we can take our time with him. No one is going to block Ozzie Albies. He’s still got to get healthy, he’s still got some things to prove. But when he’s ready, he’ll get an opportunity.”

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