“You know how nice it is to have someone like him on your team?” said Swanson, the Braves farmhand who started at shortstop for the U.S. in Sunday’s Futures Game, with Bregman to his right as the starting third baseman. “Great competitor, understands the game, top-notch guy—add all that together and you have nothing to complain about.
“But when he was at LSU? I hated playing against him, because he’d always kill you, because he’s so good.”
Bregman was good enough at Louisiana State to be the Southeastern Conference’s first-team all-league shortstop in 2015; Swanson, who was the reigning College World Series Most Outstanding Player for Vanderbilt, was relegated to the second team. (Baseball America named both first-team All-Americans, making Bregman the DH.)
Of course, in June 2015, the Diamondbacks picked Swanson No. 1 overall, with Bregman going with the second pick to the Astros. The shortstops, who shared middle infield duties as teammates with the 2014 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, have been competitors, friendly rivals and teammates for years now, and they took center stage again on the U.S. team at Petco Park.
They were at the center of the media attention and the clubhouse as usual. They command attention even when they struggle, as Swanson did (mildly) in an 0-for-2 Futures Game debut. Bregman got all the postgame attention in the U.S. clubhouse after threatening to hit for the cycle and tying a Futures Game mark with three hits, a single, double and triple.
“I don’t think they’re trying to (get attention), it just naturally comes,” said Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, their U.S. teammate and fellow SEC product. “Obviously they are confident and they have every right to be confident—they’re great players. They way they act on the field as leaders, I think players just gravitate to them.”
Prospect arguments also gravitate to them. Swanson was drafted one spot ahead of Bregman; he ranked one spot ahead, No. 7 to No. 8, on BA’s Midseason Top 100 list as well.
They do it fairly differently, with the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Swanson showing the athleticism that made him a potential mid-major Division I basketball recruit. As one crosschecker who saw them extensively as amateurs put it Sunday, he preferred Swanson as a prospect out of college due to his defensive ability to stay at shortstop. Like several other scouts I’ve talked to over the years, he said he sees Bregman more as an all-star caliber second baseman rather than a true shortstop, adding, “I would not do anything to devalue that bat.”
A pro scout at Sunday’s game preferred the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Bregman, though, because of the bat, and Bregman’s swing won over teammate Clint Frazier, the Indians prospect who knocked him home with a third-inning double of his own. Frazier’s Double-A Akron teammate Bradley Zimmer had played with Bregman on the 2013 CNT and set Frazier’s expectations high for what he would see Sunday.
“I think he surpassed them,” Frazier said with a smile. “I don’t really know what to describe him as. He’s a great hitter. Bradley Zimmer is pretty good friends with Alex, and told me, ‘Just wait until you see him. he’s going to hit.’ And he almost hit for the cycle in the Futures Game. He’s a really good player.
“He rakes man, he just barrels everything up. It’s a very simple, repeatable timing mechanism and swing. There’s not a lot that goes into it. It shows why he’s successful, he’s able to repeat what he does at the plate every time. Alex Bregman makes the game look easy.”
Garry Templeton, the former big league shortstop who served as a coach for the U.S. team, was just as impressed with both players defensively. He only had one look but thought both had the chops to stick as big league shortstops.
“They’ve got good feet, soft hands, good arms and react to the balls extremely well,” Templeton said. “When (Bregman) transitioned back to shortstop, he made it look easy. I think that’s more of his position, there were some really nice plays he made. You could see in their makeup that they are shortstops. Put them at their regular position, they will ooze and breathe confidence. I saw it just hitting them groundballs.”
They took infield together at shortstop before Bregman slid to third to start the game, with Swanson fielding three balls cleanly before Bregman started a double play in the third inning, then handled three chances at short before committing an error on a chopper by Raimel Tapia (Rockies) in the eighth. Bregman started another double play in the ninth.
With Carlos Correa at short and Jose Altuve at second base ahead of him in Houston, Bregman has played some third base and left field in advancing to Triple-A Fresno in his first pro season. He spoke confidently this weekend, as he always does, of his ability and of how he’s played this season, as Swanson does, his confidence not shaken in the least by being traded from Arizona to Atlanta scarcely six months after being the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Their friendly rivalry even stretches to their hair, one area where Bregman conceded Swanson has him beat. “That’s the only thing he gave me?” Swanson said in mock horror.
The rivalry between the two players, others insist, is a friendly one, but it exists and pushes both of them.
“They do, and they’re close friends,” Swanson’s former Vanderbilt teammate Carson Fulmer (White Sox) said Sunday. “We’ve been able to play with each other and against each other and that’s what you get when you’re close to someone.
“That USA team kept people really close, we had a special team right there. Going to Cuba and (the Netherlands), that’s how you get close. They have a lot of strengths—they’re both quality people with a ton of talent. They have natural leadership, that’s why they’re so successful. They’re both guys everyone wants to be around, that’s the aura they kind of put off.”
Bregman got the better of the rivalry at the Futures Game, even hitting a 98 mph pitch from Alex Reyes (Cardinals) for a triple in the first inning, scoring the first run for the U.S. in the third and singling off Willy Adames‘ glove in the fourth.
“He’s incredible, he really is,” Swanson said. “He can hit, play defense, do it all. I thought they were going to hang him a breaking ball and he’d hit it out (for the cycle) . . . But they started thumbing him breaking balls and changeups. . . . Everyone knows he can hit, he knows he can hit—that’s probably why he’s so good.”
When Swanson was asked if Bregman was good at anything other than baseball, he just asked his friend.
“Hey Bregman,” he called to his confidant, dressing three lockers to his left. “You got any skill sets other than baseball?
Bregman didn’t skip a beat. “No,” he called back . . . then reconsidered. “Well, I’m pretty good at chess.”
I might pay to see the two of them play against each other, even at chess. Watching Bregman and Swanson compete for the next decade-plus will spur more debates over which one will be the better big leaguer. The verdict may not be rendered for a decade or more.
But at this Futures Game, even in a losing effort, Bregman won the day.