WASHINGTON – Braves shortstop prospect Ozhaino Albies has been selected to play for the World Team in the July 12 All-Star Futures Game in Cincinnati, where he will be the youngest and easily the smallest player in the game.
But it shouldn’t take long for Albies, who turned 18 in January and is generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, to convince any of the other 49 players on the World and U.S. team rosters who haven’t seen him play that he’s legit, that he belongs in the annual showcase game for prospects played in conjunction with the major league All-Star game.
Albies has hit .322 with 13 doubles, five triples, 26 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and a .376 on-base percentage in 66 games at Single-A Rome in his first full season of pro ball, after hitting .364 with a .446 OBP, 22 steals and an .891 OPS in 57 rookie-league games in 2014.
“He’s playing great. I was talking to (center fielder Cameron) Maybin today about him,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who has been one of the diminutive switch-hitter’s most vocal supporters since the first time he saw him play. He brought Albies over from minor league camp for a spring-training game with the big-league Braves.
Albies is another shortstop from Curacao, home of Braves two-time Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons. Baseball America had Albies ranked fifth among Braves prospects in December, before they traded for several other elite prospects including pitchers Matt Wisler, Max Friend, Mike Foltynewicz. But rather than slide down a few notches, if anything Albies has risen higher.
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Braves assistant general manager John Coppolella was asked Thursday where Albies currently ranked among the organization’s prospects.
“Top five for sure, and I would say top three,’ Coppolella said, citing Albies’ age and robust stats at Rome.
When Braves veteran Jonny Gomes went down to minor league camp to get extra at-bats in a spring-training game, he came back the next day and told Gonzalez that he had seen the best player in the minor league organization, and that it was Albies.
Gonzalez said he told Braves outfielder Joe Terdoslavich about Albies in spring training, about how good he was despite his size.
“He didn’t believe me,” Gonzalez said. “I said you watch, we’re going to bring him up. When we brought him up (for a spring training game) Terdo said, ‘Whose son is that taking ground balls?’ I said that’s that little kid Albies. I said, go shake his hand. He’s strong.”
Terdoslavich did, and was impressed. Then he watched him take batting practice and infield, and talked to him at length, and became progressively more impressed by Albies.
But it wasn’t until recently, when Terdoslavich played at Rome during an injury-rehab assignment, that he developed a full appreciation for Albies’ talent. They were playing a game at Charleston.
“I was on deck, and he was up,” Terdoslavich said. “Charleston’s a big park, and the wind was blowing in. He hit a fastball up-and-away, he hit a line drive off the right field wall. Line drive.”
Terdoslavich said when the ball was initially hit, he hoped it would come down in front of the outfielder for a hit. He didn’t realize how hard it had been struck.
“I was like, ‘get down,’” Terdoslavich said, “and the ball hit off the wall. So it was pretty impressive. I mean, oppo, right-handed, off the wall, in Charleston. And that’s a pretty good poke.”
For any hitter, much less for one who’s actual height is closer to 5-7 than the 5-9 official listing.
“He plays bigger than that,” Terdoslavich said. “He’s strong. He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s got good instincts. Great teammate. I talked to him in spring a bunch too, he was asking a bunch of questions. He’s got a lot of talent, and he’s a lot stronger than he looks. He swings it really well from both sides of the plate, uses the whole field,”
As for defense, all you need to know is that Terdoslavich went so far as to compare him to Simmons.
“Good defender, always in the right place,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s just how they teach you in Curacao, but he’s always in the right place at the right time. And never gives up on any plays, on anything. Reminds me a lot of a smaller version of Simmons – and on the defensive side. Just his instincts. So I think he’s going to be a real good player.”