Ozhaino Albies can mark his birth in relation to the most famous baseball player his country ever produced, a man who inextricably linked their small island nation, Curaçao, to the Atlanta Braves.
“I was born four and a half months after Andruw Jones made his debut,” Albies, a top prospect for the Braves, said before a recent spring training game.
It seems fitting that Albies entered the world — or Willemstad, to be precise — so shortly after the inception of Jones’s major league career in Atlanta.
Few teams can match the success that the Braves have had in Curaçao. It began in 1996 with Jones, who went on to play 12 years in Atlanta. The Braves subsequently added Randall Simon, Jair Jurrjens and the gifted shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Albies, who turned 19 on Jan. 7, could become the next in that chain. Compact, athletic and as smooth as any of the other terrific shortstops who learned to play on Curaçao’s gravelly youth fields, Albies, who goes by Ozzie, has impressed in his first major league training camp.
“He’s really, really good,” said Jeff Francoeur, the veteran Braves outfielder. “He could play in the big leagues right now. I’m not saying he would be a star, but he would hold his own. He is fun to watch, and it seems like he gets it. I think he can be really special.”
Albies is listed at 5 feet 9 inches, but to some scouts he looks closer to the height of Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros’ 5-6 second baseman, whose 425 hits the last two years have demonstrated that height is not a prerequisite for baseball success.
Albies can field his position well, and with eight hits in his first 24 at-bats in spring training, he has shown proficiency against some major league pitching, and gained confidence.
“I feel I am ready for this,” he said. “I know I have a lot to work on and a lot to learn. But I feel I am ready to do whatever is necessary to get there.”
Albies batted .328 with an .812 on-base plus slugging percentage in 155 minor league games over two seasons, mostly in Class A. He hit only one home run but had 28 doubles and 11 triples and has landed on many top-prospect lists.
“He’s faced every challenge we’ve given him, and we’re very excited to have him,” Braves General Manager John Coppolella said. “He’s a winning player and an exciting player.”
Coppolella credited the Curaçaoan scout Dargello Lodowica for signing Albies, who learned to play baseball on the same field as Simmons (now with the Los Angeles Angels), Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers and the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius.
Philip Elhage, a longtime scout and one of the deans of Curaçao baseball, has been watching Albies since he was a boy.
“He was kind of overlooked because of his size, but he has a big heart,” Elhage said. “He’s a very polite kid, but he is a fighter. I think he can be the next guy.” source