With all the roster renovations that have taken place in Atlanta over the past 18 months, it can be easy to fall victim to recency bias as a Braves fan. With newly acquired players making up a significant portion of the Braves Top Prospect List, some of the longer-tenured players in the system can be easily overlooked, but that has done nothing to stop second-ranked prospect Ozhaino Albies from stealing the show in Braves camp thus far.
Despite never playing above Low-A Rome, Albies was invited to major-league camp this spring and thus far the young shortstop has been nothing but impressive. In just his first week with the big club, Albies has drawn rave reviews from seemingly everyone affiliated with the Braves organization, from the coaching staff to the front office. His makeup and maturity are often pointed out by those who have watched Albies closely, and that could be a big reason why the Braves feel comfortable having him in camp so early in his development.
At 5’9″, Albies possesses an innate ability to make consistent, solid contact from both sides of the plate. Though his power is severely limited by his stature, Albies’ ability to handle the bat combined with 70-grade speed make him a very intriguing top-of-the-order hitter for Atlanta’s future. Albies has also proven to be a very capable defender with smooth actions and a strong arm. Though he has only played shortstop to this point, many believe that Albies could seamlessly make the transition to second base if needed, which only increases his value. Albies’ performance thus far and the lack of middle infield depth for the Braves raises a very interesting question: Is it possible that Albies could reach Atlanta this season despite being just 19 years old?
Most prospects who reach the major leagues before turning 20 are considered generational talents, with the most recent examples being outfielders Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Both players possess all-around skills that have enabled them to not only debut at a young age, but debut with a high level of success. Albies brings a different package of tools to the table, as he relies on his speed and a steady approach at the plate to supplement his lack of power. Braves fans may recall a similar prospect in Rafael Furcal, who debuted in Atlanta in 2000 with only 10 at-bats above Class-A. Furcal utilized his combination of speed, on-base ability, and defense to make an instant impact for the Braves. After breaking camp with the major-league club, Furcal posted a batting line of .295/.394/.382 with 40 stolen bases, earning the National League Rookie of the Year for his efforts.
It is certainly possible that Albies could earn a promotion to Atlanta this year, given his advanced approach and the Braves’ need for consistency at second base. One other factor could be the potential trade of newly-acquired shortstop Erick Aybar, who stands as a solid bet to be traded at some point this season due to his impending free agency next offseason. The Braves have not been shy about tearing down their roster, and if Aybar is moved it could open the door for Albies to assume a starting job in Atlanta. Aybar has reportedly received interest from the St. Louis Cardinals in recent days, as their everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta is expected to be out 2-3 months with a torn thumb ligament. If a move it made prior to the regular season, it could only expedite the process of getting Albies regular playing time at the major league level. This could be something to monitor in the coming weeks.
While it may not be prudent or feasible for the Braves to break camp with Albies occupying a starting job at either shortstop or second base, the possibility exists that he could make a profound impact on the roster later in the season. The Braves have high hopes for Albies, and even if his promotion is delayed somewhat (possibly until 2017), the young man’s performance so far this spring has only enhanced the belief that he will be an impact player for the Braves sometime in the future.