There were real concerns – or at least hesitations – surrounding Ozzie Albies entering the season. The second baseman was an All-Star in his rookie season, yet he faded down the stretch and made little impact in the Braves’ brief postseason series.
After hitting .281 with 52 extra-base hits and 55 RBIs in a breakout first half in 2018, Albies posted a .226 mark with 17 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in final 65 games. It invited questions about Albies as a switch-hitter and his ceiling.
The Braves bet on Albies, signing him to an extension earlier this year with the 2018 second half fresh on their minds. The below-market extension (seven years, $35 million) looks like an even bigger bargain now as Albies takes off.
In 144 games, Albies is hitting .289/.348/.490 with 21 homers, 39 doubles, seven triples and 76 RBIs while swiping 15 bases. He’s found a home in the 2-hole, where he’s hit between best-friend Ronald Acuna and franchise-pillar Freddie Freeman.
Albies wasn’t an All-Star this season, but he’s showing why he’ll be a perennial candidate for the midsummer classic. He’s continued exhibiting the same Gold Glove defense he showcased a season ago, making him a true potential five-tool talent.
“Ozzie’s come so far,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m so proud of him. He’s doing exactly what everybody thought this kid could do. Bouncing back from the rough second half, even through his struggles this year, he’s maturing as a hitter.
“Everybody anticipated this – he’s such a bright kid, he’s got a great baseball feel, he’s confident in his abilities, he’s a hard-worker. He has all the intangibles in the world. You knew you’d just have to be patient with a kid like that.”
Given Albies’ age (22), it’s unlikely he’s peaked as a player. Even if he has, this level of production makes him a plus long-term starter and well worth his contract. His speed, along with Acuna’s, has given the Braves an entirely new level of athletic ability they’ve mostly lacked since shortstop Rafael Furcal was a regular in the early 2000s.
“When you look at it, coming into this year, you didn’t know what Ozzie you were going to get,” Freeman said. “First half or second half (of 2018). What he’s done left-handed this year has put every question to bed. Dynamic, five tools. I don’t know if he’s a 2-hole hitter – he likes to swing and doesn’t walk that much – but Ronald isn’t a 1-hole hitter either. We’ve been making it work.
“He’s been having a great season this year. He’s hitting .290. He’s been phenomenal. In my opinion he’s a Gold Glover. He should win it this year. It’s been fun to watch our young guys grow this year.”
Despite Freeman’s praise, Albies’ splits are still drastic. He’s hitting .385 with a 1.086 OPS against lefties, while his .259 average and .763 OPS against right-handers are much more down to earth. Albies has hit 10 of his 21 homers off righties, but 31 of his 39 doubles came against southpaws.
Snitker felt dropping Albies to eighth in the order made a difference. It helped Albies grow as a hitter, better learning pitch recognition and selection. Albies saw more off-speed lower in the order.
“The experience, hitting eighth, was really, really good for him when you look back on it,” Snitker said. “It taught him how to hit. With that skill set, what he’s got, the lightning in those hands, it’s something pretty special.”
His ultimate potential will be determined in how he progresses against right-handers. He’s already made a leap compared with last year, when righties limited him to .231/.283/.412 (16 of his 24 long balls came against them, albeit he had significantly more opportunities than against lefties).
Albies projects as an annual Gold Glove contender who’s perpetually in the All-Star conversation. His ceiling might well be the best second baseman in the National League, especially if he continues making strides as he has this season.