“I’m ready to play,” said Albies, 20, the Braves’ top-rated position prospect other than rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. He smiled and added, “It’s boring sitting and watching the team.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “I’m excited to see him play.”
Albies is in his fourth week of batting practice, having advanced from soft-tossed balls to coach-pitch sessions. Next comes the real thing.
Once he’s cleared to ramp it up to live batting practice, he will face Braves pitchers, either starters who might be throwing between-starts bullpen sessions or relievers who aren’t scheduled to pitch in that day’s Grapefruit League game.
For now, his in-uniform participation is confined to watching from the bench and, on Friday, catching the ceremonial first pitch in a game against the Red Sox at ESPN Wide World of Sports (then posing for pictures afterward with the local kid who threw the pitch).
One of the top prospects in baseball, Albies won the Southern League batting title with a .321 average in 82 games for Double-A Mississippi, posting a .391 OBP and .848 OPS at that level and hitting .248 with a .659 OPS in 59 games at Triple-A Gwinnett.
For the season he had a combined .292 average, .778 OPS and 49 extra-base hits (10 triples, six homers) and 30 stolen bases in 618 plate appearances, and showed enough to have the Braves discussing the possibility of him competing for the opening-day second base job at 2017 spring training. But that was before the injury, an unusual fracture for a hitter taking a swing.
The diminutive (5-foot-8) but muscular Curacao native doesn’t appear to have lost any strength during the more than four months of rest ordered by doctors after his surgery. “Feels great now,” he said.
Still, he’ll need plenty of games to show he’s ready for his first major league call-up. The Braves haven’t set any timetable, but there seems a good chance he’ll reach the majors during the 2017 season.
Because of Albies’ injury and surgery, the Braves signed versatile veteran Sean Rodriguez in November to be their primary second baseman until Albies was ready. After Rodriguez had shoulder surgery last month for injuries from a January 28 car accident, the Braves traded for former Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips, 35, who’s in the last year of his contract.
Braves general manager John Coppolella said at the beginning of spring training that Albies would not be blocked, that when he is ready there will be a place for him on the major league team.