Tuesday is a big night for the Atlanta Braves. Ozzie Albies was called up from Gwinnett and immediately placed in the starting lineup at second base.
Albies became the youngest player in the Major Leagues, being the first player born in 1997 (otherwise known as the year I graduated college) to take a big league field. The 5-foot-9 middle infielder was signed out of Curacao before the 2014 season. He grew up idolizing Jose Reyes, but quickly modeled his game after former Braves and fellow Curacao-native Andrelton Simmons.
He climbed the ladder known as a contact hitter, who knew how to draw a walk, score some runs and play incredible defense. He exploded onto the scene as an 18-year-old in his full-season debut in Rome. He slashed .310/.368/.404, striking out just 56 times and walking 36 in 394 at bats. He swiped 29 bases in 37 attempts before the Braves shut him down for the season.
That was the first time I caught up with Albies. The biggest takeaway from watching him play was his demeanor. He commands the attention of a giant, despite being the smallest and almost always youngest player on the field. He has no ego, but a confidence that no matter who’s pitching or what slump he may be in, he will overcome any challenge.
Albies was all over the place in 2016, dominating Double-A and struggling in Triple-A. His struggles continued to start this season as well. He seemed to be more aggressive, which is evidenced by his career-high nine home runs. His strikeout rates rose, while his walk rates lowered. People panicked, but the young Albies, as always, quickly adjusted.
He was vintage Albies in June, slashing .312/.368/.404 striking out 23 times and walking nine in 109 at bats. He cooled off a bit in July (hitting .297), but he’s ready for the promotion.
Albies has an odd approach to the plate. He crunches up all the way in the batters box, with an open stance as he awaits the pitch. He closes up and steps into the ball, and it works. There is little wrong with his swing mechanics. The switch-hitter did not bat from the right side on Wednesday night. He has hit a bit better from the right side, but the splits are pretty close.
Let’s not forget he’s a vacuum in the field. When the Braves acquired Dansby Swanson, a 19-year-old Albies switched smoothly to second base. He has great instincts and his speed helps his range. He gets to a lot of balls others can’t and there is little to worry about his arm strength from second despite his diminutive stature.
John Sickels had him ranked No. 2 in the Braves system entering the season. I was one of the few that was nutty enough to rank him No. 1 in our midseason rankings. There is no denying that Ronald Acuna’s ceiling may be the highest in the game, but Albies has been as consistent as the come, and is one of the safer prospects in the system to succeed.
Sit back and enjoy Braves fans. It’s Ozzie Albies Day. The Braves are one step closer to the team the began rebuilding two years ago.