This series typically focuses on the guys you may not hear about too often, but this week, the spotlight is on someone who is pretty used to receiving praising digital ink at this point – shortstop Ozhaino Albies. He turned 18 last January and is already handling the South Atlantic League (A-ball). It makes us that look at projections pretty intrigued by just how good Albies can be.
The Braves have had ridiculous success from the small island of Curacao. Andruw Jones stands out the most, of course, but Andrelton Simmons is a native to the island as well. Albies could be the next in line provided he continues to hit, which has yet to be a problem. Signed in 2013 for $350,000, Albies has a slight build (listed 5’9″, 150 pounds), though he’s young enough to foresee him adding a little bulk to that frame. It won’t make him a homerun hitter or anything, but should assist him picking up extra-base hits.
Albies skipped the Dominican Summer League last year – a sign of how much the Braves thought of him. Instead, he began his career on June 20th with the GCL Braves. After 19 games in which he hit .381 and walked more than he struck out, the Braves promoted the 17 year-old to Appalachian League to finish the year. He only hit .356/.429/.452 with 15 steals and an even BB/K rate. That kind of polish and maturity is unusual for rookie ball. That goes double for a guy who jumped to the highest rookie league team Atlanta within the first month of professional ball at the ripe old age of 17.
For his success, he received several high grades by prospect experts and was named the APPY League Top Prospect over guys who signed million-dollar bonuses as a high draftee or international signing. Before the season, I named him my seventh best prospect in the system and gave him a B- grade – sandwiched between Manny Banuelos and Christian Bethancourt. He dropped to eighth when Matt Wisler joined the system, but with Mike Foltynewicz graduating from the prospect list, Albies will be back to #7 when I start my midseason list.
Of course, looking at what he has done at Rome, it’s a good bet that he will climb up another spot or two. In his first 55 games of A-ball action, Albies has hit .317/.379/.402 with 21 steals, good for fifth in the league. He had an underwhelming beginning to the year, but since May 1, Albies has slashed .340/.403/.435 while successfully swiping all but two of his 17 attempts. He has yet to face a younger pitcher this year and is the second youngest hitter in the league to receive at least 55 ABs to this point. While the narrative of Frank Wren leaving the system bare had some traction, it severely ignored what the Braves still had – namely a guy like Albies.
Albies has yet to play anywhere but shortstop, but like Jose Peraza before him, that is certain to change the closer he gets to the majors. With Andrelton Simmons firmly entrenched at shortstop, Albies – again like Peraza – might profile as a second baseman. This is where this all gets murky, though it’s premature to worry about such a thing. The Braves apparently like Jace Peterson enough to entertain the idea of Peraza in center field, though the latter might be only a product of adding trade value to Peraza. If they do trade Peraza, it would appear that it could help Albies project to eventually claim a spot in the majors as Simba’s double-play partner sometime in 2018 or after. But again, that is premature.
A switch-hitter, so far, Albies has shown no real preference and is reported to have smooth, fluid mechanics from both sides of the plate. Defensively, he is quick and and projects to have the ability to play a solid shortstop and and even better second base. If he’s able to add a little bit more strength and find the gaps with more frequency, he could be an All-Star. Even if he doesn’t, he still projects to be a first-tier starter provided he continues to mature and hit.