CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ozzie Albies was born three months after Andruw Jones mesmerized the baseball world by homering in his first two career World Series plate appearances at the tender age of 19.But like many other kids who have been raised in Curacao over the past two decades, Albies came
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ozzie Albies was born three months after Andruw Jones mesmerized the baseball world by homering in his first two career World Series plate appearances at the tender age of 19.
But like many other kids who have been raised in Curacao over the past two decades, Albies came to recognize Jones as a legendary figure who inspired hope and pride for all others who hailed from the small Caribbean island.
Despite the fact that he has totaled just 155 games through his first two professional seasons, Albies now finds himself positioned to become the next Curacao native to make the jump to the Majors as a 19-year-old phenom. It is highly unlikely that he will earn a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster. But the impression the energetic shortstop has made during his first big league camp has at least led the Braves coaches to discuss the possibility.
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"He's the talk of the coaching staff after we come in after watching them play," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The guys talk about the maturity, the talent and the ability. He's pretty good. Then, we get [former Braves manager Bobby Cox] in the room and we say, 'hey, Skip, you took a 19-year-old up with you, didn't you?'"
Actually, Cox was not introduced to Jones until August, two months before the young outfielder homered in his first two at-bats of the 1996 World Series, and a little more than three months after he had started the season with Class A Advanced Durham.
Albies will likely begin this upcoming season with either Class A Advanced Carolina or Double-A Mississippi. The decision will be influenced by where the Braves opt to send Dansby Swanson, the club's top prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, another highly-touted shortstop who will be entering his first full season at the professional level. The club wants both prospects to begin the season playing the shortstop position on an everyday basis. Then at some point, a decision must be made to determine which member of this future middle-infield duo will make the switch to second base.
"The fun part will be for the guys in the Minor Leagues to figure out who is going to play where," Gonzalez said primarily in reference to Swanson and Albies, who rank first and third, respectively on MLBPipeline.com's list of top Braves prospects.
Heading into Spring Training, Swanson seemed to be the favorite to emerge as Atlanta's future shortstop. But the early weeks of camp have provided the reminder that this projection could change multiple times as Swanson gets indoctrinated to the pro level and the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Albies physically matures.
While Albies has repeatedly said that he does not care which middle-infield position he ends up playing, there's no doubt that he has long dreamed of being a shortstop. His favorite player during his childhood was shortstop Jose Reyes and that distinction now belongs to former Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
With Simmons, there is no native bias. In fact, Albies didn't even know Simmons was from Curacao until the two had dinner together two years ago in Atlanta.
"[Simmons] is the man right now," Albies said. "He makes all the routine plays, but he also makes plays that I've never seen before."
Though there is a chance that Albies might eventually claim the role Simmons held in Atlanta over the past four seasons, his current focus is to simply realize his goal to reach the Majors while he is still a teenager. The young infielder, who slashed .310/.368/.404 and recorded 29 stolen bases over 98 games with Class A Rome last year, will not turn 20 until January.
Jones' presence at Spring Training over the past week has added to the immediate comfort Albies has felt during his first big league camp. Though their childhood homes were separated by just 15 minutes in Curacao, the age difference prevented them from truly getting to know each other until recently.
"Andruw is the man in Curacao, he's one of the best I've ever seen in my life," Albies said.
If history repeats itself, the Braves could possess yet another highly-promising 19-year-old prospect from Curacao, who might say something similar about Albies.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Listen to his podcast.