The Situation: The Braves first-choice 2017 shortstop—top prospect Dansby Swanson—scuffled for the first half of the season, so the Braves are turning to another high-end infield prospect to take up-the-middle reps for the dog days of summer.
The Background: Ozzie Albies signed out of Curacao in July 2013 for $350,000. He was aggressively moved though the Braves system, coming stateside as a 17-year-old, heading to full-season ball as an 18-year-old, skipping Advanced-A as a 19-year-old, and spending his entire age-20 season so far in the International League. Albies has hit at every level, posting a career line in the minors of .304/.365/.424, while splitting time between second base and shortstop.
Scouting Report: Albies has a slash-and-dash offensive approach that marries well with his advanced bat control and plus-plus speed. The swing is unorthodox, utilizing a very open stance, a big leg kick, and more length in the hand path than you’d expect from a player of this size and offensive profile. It hasn’t been an issue so far in the minors, although he has posted higher K-rates recently than you’d like from your hit-tool-first middle infielder. He’s shown more power in 2017, but he’ll be one of only about ten players in the majors listed at 5-foot-10 or less and under 170 pounds. It’s not impossible that you see real game power from dudes that size—see Jose Ramirez and Jose Altuve—but those are unusual profiles and difficult to comp. Albies is a sure-handed, rangy, middle infielder. He was likely destined for second long term with the Braves before Swanson’s struggles, but he is capable at shortstop despite his arm being fringy for the 6. Overall, Albies projects as a fairly low-risk, above-average regular at one of the up-the-middle infield spots.
Immediate Big League Future: Albies should be getting everyday at-bats either at shortstop or at second if Brandon Phillips hamstring issues linger/worsen, but Johan Camargo has been solid in 2017 and gotten most of the shortstop reps since Dansby Swanson was demoted (and even towards the nadir of Swanson’s major-league struggles). Albies’ speed and glove will make him a useful bench piece if that’s where the Braves use him for the balance of 2017, but this should be an opportunity to see him against major league arms as an audition for a starting role in 2018. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Fantasy Impact: For the second time in the last calendar year the Braves are dipping into their middle infield reserve to unearth the next young, exciting centerpiece at the keystone. Before Dansby Swanson (and his glorious, flowing, Fabio-ish locks) was but a dull glint in Dave Stewart's eye, the Braves were raving about Albies and his ability to hit. Albies struggled in his first taste of Triple-A last season as a 19-year-old, but has turned a corner this year, slashing .285/.330/.440 in 448 plate appearances for the Gwinnett Braves. Perhaps most intriguing with his 2017 line is the newfound (relative) power Albies has added to the arsenal, as the switch-hitter has slugged nine dingers, which is more than his previous three seasons combined.
While the pop is nice, Albies is most renowned for his ability to hit for average and steal bases. With both skills at a premium in today's fantasy landscape, he's certainly an interesting piece for the rest of this season and beyond. Albies has split time between both middle infield spots this season, so he should be an immediate fixture in the Braves' infield, a status that shouldn't be affected if and when Swanson returns. If his hit tool can translate, Albies could be putting up .285-.295/10/35 lines in the near future. If it doesn't translate, well, we know the Braves won't hesitate to send promising middle infielders back down to the minors. I'm optimistic. —Mark Barry