Curtain rises on 17-year-old Elvis

Braves believe shortstop is an All-Star in the making

(Atlanta Braves)

By Mark Bowman / MLB.com | March 20, 2006 1:28 PM

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Back in 1984, the Seattle Mariners signed a couple of Venezuelans named Rolando Petit and Omar Vizquel. At the time, they thought enough of Petit's offensive skills to project he would be the more successful big leaguer.

Two decades and 10 Vizquel Gold Glove Awards later, Petit still hasn't made his Major League debut. But in his current profession as a scout, he has provided the Braves with yet another stud Venezuelan shortstop, who one day may prove even better than Vizquel.

A little more than a year after signing with the Braves, 17-year-old Elvis Andrus already has created enough buzz to earn some time in two big-league exhibition games. Taking advantage of the situation, he recorded a hit in four at-bats.

"I think the kid has the tools to be one of the best in the game," said Petit, the Braves' Venezuelan scout who signed Andrus on Jan. 26, 2005.

Like many Venezuelans, Petit knows a thing or two about great shortstops. But along with savoring the Hall of Fame talents of native legends like Luis Aparicio and Dave Concepcion, he got a first-hand look at the development of Vizquel. They began playing together at the age of 8 in Caracas and remained teammates through their first three Minor League seasons.

While Vizquel might have been slightly superior defensively, there's really only one difference Petit can find when comparing Andrus to his long-time friend.

"Elvis is a shortstop who can definitely hit," Petit said. "That's the biggest difference."

While Vizquel's .274 career batting average is certainly respectable, projections are much higher for the much stronger Andrus, who weighs 185 pounds and stands 6 feet. In 46 games with the Gulf Coast League Braves last year, he used his strong hands to hit .295 and produce a .398 slugging percentage.

"He has the projection of being a five-tool player," Braves assistant general manager Dayton Moore said. "But he just needs to play and adjust to the rhythm of the game at each level."

When the Braves held a workout camp in Venezuela in 2004, Andrus didn't show up. The belief is that the Yankees, who had his older brother Erold in their system at the time, were telling him not to sign with any other clubs.

Andrus became eligible to sign a professional contract on July 2, 2004. When he didn't, the Braves and many other clubs felt they still had a chance to grab a kid who had been labeled the next great shortstop to come out of Venezuela.

When the Braves went back to Venezuela for a workout camp in January 2005, Andrus arrived about 15 minutes late. But after seeing the youngster take his first five swings in batting practice and deliver five consecutive line drives to the opposite field, Moore told his people they weren't leaving the country without signing the shortstop.

In all his years of scouting, Moore said that he has never seen another kid who has shown the maturity that Andrus displayed while showing patience and not trying to pull any of the first few pitches in batting practice.

"I never saw Derek Jeter when was young, but that's who he reminds me of," Moore said. "He's just real sure and real controlled with everything that he does."

A few hours after the workout, with the benefit of Petit's good relationship with the family, Andrus had signed a six-figure contract with the Braves. His signing bonus was slightly less than the $600,000 figure Andy Marte received from the Braves in 2000.

It was also about $4 million less than the signing bonus B.J. Upton received after being selected by the Devil Rays with the second pick in the 2002 draft. Braves director of Minor League operations J.J. Picollo said during the 2005 workout that Andrus reminded him of Upton, when Upton was a high school sophomore.

"He's got enough ability to be very good in the Majors," Petit said. "But let's wait and see. It's too soon. He's only 17."

With the Braves, Andrus won't be rushed toward the Majors. There's a chance he could start this year at Class A Rome.

But knowing that Andrus has the advanced maturity that helped Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann make a rapid rise to the Majors, the Braves know there's a chance it won't be long before Elvis has found his way to Atlanta.

"He has the charm that people want to be around," Moore said. "No matter what your physical ability is, unless you didn't have that advanced ability and advanced knowledge of the game, you can't advance quickly."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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