Fantasy Baseball: Just who is Ozzie Albies, exactly?
Can we believe in this version of Ozzie Albies, the young Braves second baseman who is tearing up the National League? Chris Towers takes a closer look.
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It's rare that a top prospect gets the call without much fanfare. Fantasy players are so dialed in these days that we're usually counting the days until the latest top prospect gets his chance – see the excitement for Scott Kingery (Baseball America's No. 31 prospect) before the season, let alone for someone like Ronald Acuña.
So, it's weird to think back to when Ozzie Albies got the call last year, because the Fantasy community didn't really take note. He was the No. 11 prospect on Baseball America's list before the 2017 season, but by the time he got the call, he was something of a forgotten man in the world of prospect hype. The then-20-year-old had hit just .285/.330/.440 at Triple-A, and came up in August, hardly the best time for hype to build, so he sort of slipped under the radar.
He's not slipping under anyone's radars anymore. After a pretty good rookie season that saw Albies hit .286/.354/.456 with six homers and eight steals in 57 games, he's been one of the best hitters in baseball to open the season. Albies has already clubbed nine homers in 27 games, matching the most he's ever had at any level in his career – he also hit nine in 97 games in Triple-A.
This is a statement kind of month, the one that takes a young player from an interesting Fantasy prospect to the top of the ranks. But what's interesting about Albies is how different he's been in the majors compared to who he was in the minors and as a prospect. Let's illustrate that with some 150-game pace numbers for the majors and minors:
- Majors: .288/.350/.523, 38 2B, 11 3B, 27 HR, 20 SB
- Minors: .304/.365/.424, 32 2B, 11 3B, 6 HR, 39 SB
That's a pretty massive difference, and it's not one that can be explained away by just the "juiced ball," or a young player growing into his power. However, the combination of both could explain some of Albies' apparent growth as a power hitter.
Still, what we've seen so far goes above and beyond any reasonable expectation anyone could have had. Before the season, I compared Albies to Alex Bregman and Francisco Lindor, and thought that was high praise; it turns out, I should have been comparing him to Mike Trout.
Or maybe not.
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Nobody thinks what Albies is doing right now is real – or at least nobody should. As good as the results have been, the process obviously doesn't back it up; he's sporting a 30.9 percent hard-hit rate and 86.9 mph average exit velocity, both of which are closer to the bottom of the league than the top. Even if you just account for fly balls and line drives, Albies' 93.0 mph average exit velocity ranks 171st, which leads me to believe he should be more of an average power hitter.
That's still more than his minor-league numbers suggest, and that probably gets us closer to the "juiced-ball-plus-natural-progression" area we could expect moving forward. What helps Albies' cause is that he's done a good job of putting the ball in the air, hitting just 38.2 percent of his batted balls on the ground in his major-league career, or what Bregman and Kris Bryant have managed since the start of last season.
Average raw power would lead to about 12 percent of fly balls going over the yard, and for Albies, that could mean he really is a 25-homer hitter given how often he puts the ball in the air. Add in a batting average in the .280 range, a decent number of stolen bases, and a surprisingly good Braves lineup, and… he actually looks a lot like what you might have expected from Bregman or Lindor before the season.
Both have gotten off to somewhat slow starts, but both were also solid early-round picks -- Lindor a second-rounder, and Bregman an early-fourth. That's a huge return on your investment in Albies, who was often available in the 10th round or later in drafts this preseason. Congratulations!
Of course, it also means Albies is still a sell-high candidate if someone in your league really is buying him as a Fantasy superstar. That potential is there, but I would still feel comfortable trade Albies for any number of early-round picks. Target a slow starter like George Springer, Bregman, Lindor, or Cody Bellinger, and enjoy even more profit. Remember, you already banked Albies' production so far, so turning him into an even better player only boosts your chances of winning a title.
So, to ask again: Who is Ozzie Albies, exactly?
A very good player. That much is certain. Just how good he is, and what he might eventually settle in as still remains to be seen. He's probably not this good, but that's OK. He doesn't need to be.
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