This will be the first in a series of articles about various prospects. The series will focus on spreading information on top prospects while at the same time attempting to bring light to lesser known players. It will combine knowledge and statistics gathered from various sources including first hand viewing. This first installment will focus on the Braves it-prospect right now: diminutive shortstop Ozhaino Albies. He's lighting the lower minor leagues up in a way that has fans and scouts alike daydreaming about his future in the organization.
Level: Class A - Rome Braves
Born: 1/7/1997 Willemstad, Curacao
Bats: Switch Throws: Right
80 G; .331/.387/.426; 0 HR; 15 2B; 8 3B; 55 R; 33 RBI; 25 SB; 29 BB; 44 K
In one of the biggest steals of the 2013 J2 prospect class, the Braves signed 16 year old Curacaoan Shortstop Ozhaino Albies for just $350,000. Since his debut a year ago, he has lit the lower minor leagues on fire, posting a .342 batting average over 3 levels. While his 5'9" frame doesn't scream must-watch prospect, Albies has quickly separated himself as the best shortstop prospect in the Braves system. He has a mature, aggressive approach at the plate and when he gets on base, he can wreak havoc on opposing catchers. His defense is a bit of a work in progress, but he has shown the instincts and athleticism to be a plus defender in the future
Ozhaino Albies has been on my prospect radar since the mid point of his season in 2014. At that point, he had just gotten called up to Danville and was hitting about .440 at that level. I have vigorously followed him since, looking through every article I could find on him. He quickly became a favorite of mine and some publications had already begun to rank him as the top prospect in the system. I finally got an opportunity to watch him play late in June and he showed me why he was so hyped this winter.
Ozzie has a very advanced approach from both sides of the plate and combines that with a feel for the bat head that is almost uncanny. He makes solid contact from both sides of the plate with a smooth, short swing and will hit the ball to any part of the field. He has a bit of a high leg kick, but he gets his foot down quickly and is able to get the barrel through the hitting zone. He can barrel up any pitch and does a very good job of staying on curveballs. He has made strides at the plate in his first year in full season ball, improving his Line Drive % to 22.8% from 14.7%. He leads all of minor league baseball in hits despite being the 4th youngest player in the minors. I got the opportunity to watch him hit from both sides of the plate and he showed ability from both sides with a consistent swing, though he is a bit more aggressive from the right side. While the swing is consistent there has been a huge dichotomy in his results. From the right side he hits half the amount of line drives (26.5% to 13.1% as LH) and many more fly balls (11.4% OFB to 27.1% OFB as LH). His walk rate is 9% as a righty and 2.7% as a lefty, and he strikes out slightly more as a right hander. He hits for more power from the right side (.052 ISO difference) but gets on base less (.064 OBP difference). That's a huge difference between what we saw last year, when his numbers were almost symmetrical. I would expect his future numbers to reflect more of what he did in 2014 due to his swing but it's something that has to be paid attention to.
With his style of play I would expect his walk rate to hover between 7-12% (he currently has a 7.8% walk rate, and had an 11.6% in 2014) in the future seems likely. He won't strike out much and has the ability to bunt and reach on infield singles. He is a prototypical leadoff hitter who would move through the system quickly if it weren't for the log jam of middle infielders. With his build and short swing, I don't think he'll generate anything more than marginal power. He has good gap power and will get a lot of doubles and triples, but it would surprise me if he ever reached double digit home runs.
Future Hit Grade: 70
Future Power Grade: 30
Ozzie makes very good use of his plus to plus speed on both the base paths and the field. He has struggled some with getting jumps early on, but is starting to improve and should get better at that as he climbs the ladder. He has 44 stolen bases in 130 career minor league games, and has a stolen base percentage above 80%. He has easy plus speed, and with his work ethic and athleticism should maintain that into maturity. He hustles hard out of the box and uses his legs to put pressure on the defense, a skill that will prove to be very useful in the majors where he won't always be able to square up against good pitching. The speed obviously helps in the field as he has very good range at the shortstop position and is quick to react to balls hit to his side of the field.
Future Run Grade: 70
There have been conflicting reports about Albies' arm. Many have called it below average, which would necessitate a move to second base in the future. Others have him graded with plus arm strength, plenty enough to stick at shortstop. I only got the opportunity to see him make 6 throws and I got a bit of both. One throw he came up about 15 feet short on, but on another he short-hopped 1B Matt Tellor from deep in the hole. I would grade his arm strength as above average at present with a chance to mature to plus. His arm accuracy is roughly average, but at 18 he has a long time to improve that skill. He is a full effort thrower and needs to recognize when he can take his time and let off a bit on his throws. He has a good feel for making throws to second base, putting the two throws I saw right in the chest of Omar Obregon
Future Arm Grade: 55
I went into Rome with little expectation that I would get a clear view of Albies defensive talent, but what I saw really impressed me. He displayed plus range and ability to make a play on any ball that came his way. He didn't have to range far on many balls as he always seemed to be positioned properly for the ball. He managed to scoop up a couple of tricky hops and on one occasion (which you can see in the video) he was able to quickly and accurately get and throw to second base despite getting handcuffed by the hop. He has quick hands and good footwork around the base and made accurate throws to first base on double plays. He's a heady defender that knows all the nuances of the game as evidenced by him covering third base when a runner tried to advance to third and Erison Mendez had vacated his position. He has improved defensively, shown by a jump in range factor from 3.89 to 4.48 and an improvement in fielding percentage from .941 to .957. He does make a few too many errors, but most of them have been throwing errors. His consistency should improve as he advances so as long as he keeps making strides it is nothing to worry about. I think he has all of the tools to stick at shortstop and is an overall plus defender
Future Defensive Grade: 65
One of the most impressive things about Albies was his all-around make up. He hustles on every ground ball and always finds his position. The resources I use say he is a hard worker and shows up to every game ready to play. He is a good clubhouse presence and always seems to be having fun with his teammates. He really seems to enjoy being a part of the Braves organization, and he is a humble guy who doesn't take his abilities for granted. As much as his talent impressed me I was even more impressed by him personally.
Overall Future Grade: 65
The Scouting community is quickly becoming aware of Ozhaino Albies. He pops up on Top 100 lists all across baseball, and checks in at 89 on MLB's prospect list. He has the makeup and tools to overcome his size deficiencies and projects to be a future All Star at the shortstop position. Despite this he will likely have to move to 2B due to the presence of Andrelton Simmons. He has the athleticism and instincts to adjust to the position, and if Simmons leaves Atlanta in 2021 (his first year of free agency) Albies would be heir to the starting role at shortstop. He could be a top of the lineup force that can steal 50 bases a season with excellent on-base skills. He is a young prospect, but really projects well for the future and will lead to a major decision for the Braves to make as to their future in the middle infield. If the Braves keep him around, it could very well prove to be the right decision as he has the potential to be a mainstay at the top of the lineup for years to come