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Ozzie Albies, 2B/SS
2016 Level: AA Mississippi
6 HR, 30 SB
(AA and AAA levels combined)
Ozhaino ‘Ozzie’ Albies was an international amateur free agent signee out of Curaçao in 2013, receiving a $350,000 signing bonus from the Braves. Relatively overlooked because of his small stature by many scouts, Albies started to turn some heads when he hit a combined .364/.446/.444 and stole 22 bases in 57 games in his first pro season in the rookie leagues. That offseason, former Fangraphs Lead Prospect Writer (and current Braves Assistant Director of Baseball Operations) Kiley McDaniel named Albies his #1 Braves prospect to the surprise of nearly everyone.
Over the course of the 2015 season, many came around to his point of view as Albies hit is way through the South Atlantic League to the tune of a .310/.368/.404 slash line while making highlight-reel plays at shortstop. Ozzie Albies’ designation as Braves shortstop-of-the-future was solidified with the offseason trade of Andrelton Simmons, but then complicated again by the Braves acquisition of Dansby Swanson from the Diamondbacks. Far from being rivals, the two prospects got along well in spring training even as they alternated playing shortstop and second base in Grapefruit League action.
While it was understood that the Braves likely would keep the two separated at first so that they could both work at shortstop, it was Albies that was chosen to skip a level and make his debut as the youngest player in AA (by seven months). Albies exploded out of the gate, hitting .369/.442/.512 in the first month, prompting a promotion to AAA Gwinnett. It was there that Albies finally struggled for essentially the first time in his pro career, batting only .239/.276/.368 in his first month. In June, Albies started to turn things around and he hit a respectable .273/.349/.345 while making the move from shortstop to second base as the organization at last made its decision on which prospect would play where in their inevitable double-play combo. On June 30, the organization made it official as Albies was sent back to AA Mississippi to team with Swanson. Albies continued to hit well, going .305/.373/.451 the rest of the season on his way to a Southern League batting title. Unfortunately, in the first game of the Southern League Division Series, Albies suffered a fractured olecranon (the bone at the tip of the elbow) after fouling off a pitch in his second plate appearance. After the season, Albies was named the #3 prospect in the Southern League and the #11 prospect in the International League by Baseball America.
At only 5’-9” and 160 pounds, Ozzie Albies looks like the teenager that he is. However, don’t let the size fool you into thinking he’s only a slap-and-dash speedster. Albies has a very quick swing, excellent bat control and contact ability, and good pitch recognition. He’s patient enough to take a walk, but not so passive that a pitcher should feel like he can ever get an easy strike if he gets down in the count. His bat speed and control allows him to put enough charge in the ball to hit liners over the infielders and into gaps, as his 33 doubles and 10 triples on the season will attest to. Albies’s 6 home runs came as a bit of a surprise, but given his bat speed that type of home run output may not be out of the question. Albies has plus speed and is a good and aggressive baserunner. He still needs to work on reading pitchers and getting better jumps on stolen base attempts, and he’s only 75% successful in his pro career as a basestealer. Albies rates as above average in arm strength and plus in range at both shortstop and second base, but can sometimes try to do too much on high-difficulty plays that can lead to errors. Because of his relative inexperience with second base, he still needs to refine his footwork around the bag, especially on the double-play pivot.
The Braves have extracted 89.4 bWAR in value from the island of Curaçao thanks to Andruw Jones, Jair Jurrjens, Andrelton Simmons, and Randall Simon. Ozzie Albies is poised to add to that number in 2017. There was no ligament damage to his elbow in conjunction with the elbow fracture, and Albies is expected to make a full recovery and resume baseball activities in January. This should put him in line to compete for an opening day roster spot in Atlanta. If the Braves elect to send him back down for some more seasoning, or perhaps just to delay his pro debut enough to keep Albies from getting Super Two arbitration status, he will likely start in AAA Gwinnett.