Feature on Ozzie Albies

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - March 8: The Atlanta Braves minor league players pose for head shots. (Photo by Patrick Duffy for Pouya Creative/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ozhaino Albies (Patrick Duffy for Pouya Creative/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

By Jim O'Hara / Rome Braves | May 15, 2015 1:29 PM

The small island nation of Curacao in the southern Caribbean has produced more than its share of professional baseball players over the past two decades, with one major pipeline leading directly to Atlanta.

Andruw Jones, Jair Jurrjens, Randall Simon and Andrelton Simmons - all have worn a Braves uniform with success.

Not surprisingly, the team has found yet another gem who may join his countrymen's ranks and at the young age of 18, Rome Braves shortstop Ozhaino "Ozzie" Albies is putting himself in a position to follow in their footsteps.

"My whole life is about baseball and family," Albies, who was signed by the Braves as a non-drafted free agent in 2013 at the age of 16, said about his love for the game and those around him. "When I was six, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to play.

"The next day," he continued, "I was on the field and I've never stopped playing."

An expression of sheer joy spreads across the teen's face when he talks about the game and it's one that can be seen when he swings a bat and becomes a speedy threat on the bases or using his glove to steal singles away from opposing hitters and gun them down at first with throw that looks like it was fired from a cannon.

"He makes plays look easy that aren't easy. He does things you can't touch," Rome manager Randy Ingle, who was in Danville, Va., last summer when Albies played for the Braves' rookie-level ballclub in the Appalachian League. "Talk about someone who plays beyond his age - he plays like he's a lot older than he is."

Ranked as the Braves' No. 7 prospect, Albies proved he had the skills - and the hard-work ethic - right off the proverbial bat.

Last year, his first-ever as a professional ballplayer, the 5-foot-9 switch-hitting infielder - he learned how to hit from both sides of the plate in 2013 - opened the season playing with the Braves' Gulf Coast League team that is the first step for those seeking to climb Atlanta's farm system ladder.

After just 19 games, in which he batted .381, Albies was called up to Danville where he continued making an immediate statement, playing in 38 games, hitting .356, scoring 25 runs and driving in 19 more of them and stealing 15 bases.

Not surprisingly, he was named an Organization All-Star by Milb.com.

"He had such a good start in the Gulf Coast League they had to send him to Danville," said Ingle.

Still, Albies was determined to get even better as he prepared for the 2015 season, fine-tuning his form at the plate and in the field and when the Braves began spring training, he got a taste of the big leagues by being called on to play in five exhibition games with the major league club.

The experience also allowed Albies to spend time with Simmons, Atlanta's first-ever Gold Glove shortstop.

Jose Reyes now with Toronto, four-time All-Star from Dominican Republic

"Jose Reyes was my hero growing up," said Albies, who grew up watching the four-time All-Star from the Dominican Republic on TV as much as he could. "But now it's Andrelton and what's good is that I practice with him back home during the off-season."

When the Braves broke spring camp, Albies made his way with the Braves' low-Class A team to Rome and since the season started in April he has emerged as one of the South Atlantic League's top infielders.

Heading into the final three games of Rome's road trip to Asheville this weekend, Albies has put up impressive numbers that gives him a chance at being selected for the SAL All-Star Game next month, with a .310 batting average, 25 runs scored, 14 RBI, 13 stolen bases and a .941 fielding average.

Earlier this month, Albies put together his most impressive week-long run, hitting .429 in six games, with two doubles and two triples, had seven RBI and scored seven runs, and stole four bases, resulting in his selection as the SAL Offensive Player of the Week ending May 10.

But Albies understands that there's still more to learn.

"The pitchers (in the SAL) are much better," he said. "They're more consistent and have more pitches. But I can handle it. I try to swing short and quick every time I hit the ball.

"This is a good team. I feel like I'm home," Albies said about being a Brave in Rome. "I was so excited to be here when the season opened playing in a beautiful stadium in front of a lot of fans.

"I just want to play ball, make my family proud and keep moving up."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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