Ozzie Albies had a two month audition with the Braves and showed that he was well worth the wait.
What were the expectations?
The expectations for Albies in 2017 were that he would show that he could handle the Triple-A level and eventually make his debut in the majors at second base for the Braves.
The question with Albies for 2017 wasn’t a matter of if but when. Albies got a bit of a late start in Spring Training while recovering from a fractured elbow that he suffered on a swing at the end of the 2016 season. Once healthy, he put together a solid showing at Gwinnett, hitting .285/.330/.440 with nine home runs, 21 doubles and eight triples in just over 400 at bats.
His promotion on August 1 came as a bit of a surprise given that Brandon Phillips was playing well and still a part of the team’s roster. Phillips ended up shifting to third base, a position he had never played over a 1,700+ game career, to make room for Albies, who became the everyday second baseman for the remainder of the season.
Albies got off to a 2-for-17 start but quickly found his comfort zone and was surprisingly consistent. He hit .277/.333/.465 through 28 games in August and kicked that up a notch in September, going .293/.371/.448 in 29 games.
One of the biggest concerns involving Albies was his ability from the left hand side of the plate. He quieted those concerns a bit hitting a respectable .273/.337/.436 in over 150 at bats (102 wRC+). In general, though, those concerns were always overblown, as they were essentially influenced by his first few PAs in the majors, which were driven by a combination of a low BABIP and a very high fly ball rate. (More on that in a bit.) He had much fewer opportunities from the right side but torched the ball at a .327/.407/.519 clip.
One reason you should potentially be excited for Albies is that he already showed an ability to make an in-season adjustment that paid immediate dividends. When he first came up, there seemed to be something off about his swing plane or launch angle, as everything was going in the air in an arc, despite his propensity in the minors for barreling the ball and spraying it around the field. Over his first three weeks of major league exposure, his fly ball rate was north of 50%, and, correspondingly, his batting line was suffering (70 wRC+, .216 BABIP, despite some really good quality of contact). That launch angle got “revised” downward shortly thereafter, with a fly ball rate of 36% through the reason of the season, leading to a .357 BABIP and a 129 wRC+ for the remaining seven weeks of play. Note that a 50% fly ball rate is pretty much the max any player will sustain unless he’s Joey Gallo or Chris Carter, while a 36% is dead-on average in this day and age. Albies corrected a glaring flaw and found success. It won’t always be that easy, but it was a great start. (He got a bit fly ball-happy again in mid-September, but was again able to ratchet it downward before the end of the year.)
Albies was essentially able to come to the majors and maintain his Triple-A numbers. He actually increased his walk rate slightly and cut down on his strikeouts. FanGraphs had him at 112 wRC+ and at 1.9 fWAR in just 57 games.
Albies returned to health and answered a lot of the questions he was facing as a prospect. He turned in a solid season at the Triple-A level and experienced virtually no drop off during his two-month stay in the majors. Barring something unforeseen, he will open the 2018 season as the team’s starting second baseman and could lock down that spot for the foreseeable future.
It’s hard to be certain regarding expectations for any young players, and Albies is no exception. One only has to look to his double play partner to receive cautionary instruction on using a good month or two as a benchmark for what to expect going forward. Still, Albies looks like he’ll be able to manage at least a decent batting line with above-average defense at the keystone, which may suggest a floor of “below average regular.” As for ceiling, well, he showed flashes of brilliance over the last two months of the season, so it’s exciting to dream on what he may have in store for the Braves and their fans.