August 2017

Braves Eye Future, Call Up Ozzie Albies

ATLANTA — Amidst a second half slide that saw their fleeting wild card hopes seemingly slip away, the Atlanta Braves opened the month of August with an eye on the future. The club called up top prospect Ozzie Albies from Triple-A Gwinnett, signalling that the final two months of 2017 will be spent preparing for 2018 and beyond.

Albies, 20, becomes the youngest player in Major League Baseball at 20 years, 206 days at the time of his call-up. The switch-hitting infielder may have broken camp with the big club in spring training had he not suffered a broken elbow on a swing last September. With adequate time to put that injury behind him and gain some added experience at the Triple-A level, the club believes Albies is ready to contribute on an everyday basis.

“The kid’s been an all-star, he’s done well every step of the way no matter how old he’s been,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Alibies has been one of, if not the youngest player at every level through the Braves minor league system. He signed as a 16-year-old out of Curacao in 2013. In 1,744 career minor-league plate appearance,  Albies has never faced a pitcher who is younger than him.

Despite his age and becoming the youngest current player in the big leagues, Atlanta believes Albies is ready to take the next step. He joins Andruw Jones and Andrelton Simmons among the five Curacao natives to play for the Braves.

“I know he’s always been a leader on all the teams he’s been on,” Snitker said. “Talking to the [minor league managers] who’ve had him, he’s a very mature kid for his age. He’s a talented, skilled guy. I’ve said for a long time that skills play up here. Talent does. He’s a exciting little player with really good skills and it’ going to be fun to watch him play.”

After a slow start to his season, Albies turned it around in the month of May and is batting .285/.330/.440 with 38 extra-base hits and in his 97 games this season.  This comes on the heel of winning a batting title as a 19-year-old in the Southern League in 2016.

“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m ready for it. I was always ready for it,” Albies said of the call to the big leagues. “I’m excited and ready to play right away.”

The Braves hope that Albies will be part of a double play tandem that will include shortstop Dansby Swanson, but the two essentially passed each other while heading opposite directions this week. A long slump coupled with the emergence of Johan Camargo prompted the Braves to send Swanson to Gwinnett to work things out. Albies earned his first call to the major leagues just five days later.

A speedy middle infielder who transitioned from shortstop last season, Albies will become the Braves everyday second baseman. Manager Brian Snitker said he’s already spoken with veteran incumbent Brandon Phillips, who was acquired as a one-year stopgap after injuries altered Atlanta’s plans at the keystone position. Phillips could move to third base in order to maintain a spot in the Braves lineup.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.