Before I came to Minor League Ball last month, I was the editor at another minor league baseball site. While I was responsible for blanket coverage of the minors, my focus was on both the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees systems which I had followed most closely over the years.
To say the Braves kept me busy this year is an understatement. John Hart seemed like an evil genius, with every trade he pulled off being a win for the Braves. That is why I couldn’t come to grasps with the Jose Peraza/ Hector Olivera deal. How could a team in a retooling mode trade away their best prospect?
I have read the hype and seen many a video on the young 18-year old shortstop brewing way down in Rome, Georgia. Our own Sally expert, John Calvagno had already done a nice scouting report on Ozhaino Albies earlier this season. But it was time I saw for myself. Who was this youngster that made Peraza expendable? Was he all hype or all star?
This past Friday, I took in the Rome Braves game as they took on the Augusta GreenJackets. The Braves lost, and Ozzie Albies’ stat line was nothing spectacular at first glance, finishing the night 0-2. But there was much more to his night than what the box score read.
There was a buzz everywhere in the stadium every time Albies came to bat or made a play in the field. "The real deal," was heard amongst scouts and in the press box, and "OZZIE" was being yelled when he would get in the batters box.
In the top of the fifth, third baseman Jordan Edgerton made a play on a ball that was more Roger Dorn than Brooks Robinson. When it got past him, Alvies had run deep into left field to make the back handed stop and made a Derek Jeter-esque throw that one hopped the first baseman. Despite the runner beating out the play, the crowd stood and cheered. This is the defense that Albies has become known for in his young career.
That night, I got to see a little bit of what makes Albies a special player. He led off the game with a walk, something that has become Albies calling card, being a solid leadoff hitter. He’s slashing .297/.340/.377 when leading off an inning, with nine extra base hits and seven walks.
Most impressive was his ninth inning walk.
Albies came to the plate with the bases loaded and the Braves trailing 5-1. Instead of trying to be the hero, Albies exhibited sound plate discipline. He held off of a very close first pitch. The second pitch was wide and high and got past the catcher, allowing the Braves to chip one run closer.
He would draw a walk on the next three pitches, keeping the inning alive, and allowing Omar Obregon to come to the plate and drive in a run on a single on the ensuing at bat. The Braves would fall short, 5-3, but they sure made it exciting.
"We tried to come back," Albies said a bit disappointed. "We didn’t give up."
The diminutive shortstop out of Curacao stands at only 5 foot 9 (at least that’s what he’s listed at) but commands the attention of a giant. When he is on the field, you feel like you are watching a seasoned superstar. When you get to talk to him, you realize he is a humble kid, grateful and happy to be playing the sport he loves.
Albies is the youngest player on the full season level of Minor League baseball, and it seemingly hasn’t phased him a bit. His debut 2014 was unreal, as he slashed .311/.370/.404 stealing 22 bases in 27 attempts. He has followed it up with a spectacular first year in Class A ball, slashing .311/.370/.404 through 96 games.
"I feel very happy about it" Albies said with a smile about his successful season. "I just try to have fun out there. Try to do my best every day and see the results."
As I spoke to him, his fellow team mates would come up to us, sticking imaginary microphones in his face and teasing him. You could tell two things. One, this wasn’t Albies first interview and two, his teammates embrace him and the season he is having, despite their team’s struggles.
"It’s exciting, but I try not to feel nervous." Albies said talking about being the top prospect of a rising young system. "It’s a happy excited. There is no pressure."
The beginning of his season came with many accolades. He was named a Mid-Season SAL All Star and took home a Player of the Week Award in May. He also got the call to play in the MLB Futures Game.
"Oh man, I was smiling," Albies said on being selected by the Braves. "I was excited and happy. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really going there,’ and I just wanted to do my best."
Albies wasn’t simply part of it. At 18-years of age, Albies was able to smack a single off of the Cincinnati Reds highly rated prospect Amir Garrett. Albies seemingly has ice in his veins, and never seems phased by anything.
"They all tried to have fun with me" Albies said about the experience of the Futures Game and being the youngster amongst the group. "I just got to know them and meet some of them, but then I had to do my job."
Growing up in Curacao, one would think that Albies may have been a big Andruw Jones fan, but it was a Dominican shortstop that caught Albies eye and he sought out to emulate.
"Jose Reyes," Albies said quickly and confidently. "Growing up I watched Jose Reyes, but when I came here, I started watching Andrelton Simmons," he added with a smile.
With Simmons entrenched as perhaps the game’s best fielding shortstop, Albies may be destined to be the next Braves second baseman. Right now, however, he is amongst the shortstop youth revolution sweeping through baseball. The Sally alone sports some big names at shortstop with Albies and the Yankees Jorge Mateo stealing headlines, while Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor are stealing the show in the bigs.
"Francisco is with the same agency I am. He always talks to me and tells me advice. Just keep doing my job, keep my head level."
So, what kind of player can the Braves expect when Albies makes his eventual big league debut?
"I want to get on base, try to steal second and third, produce runs and help our team win. I want to get on base everyday, hopefully twice," Albies said laughing.