When MLB.com revealed its 2016 Top 100 Prospect list in January, Ozzie Albies slotted in at No. 29. This time last year, he wasn't on the list at all.
He had much to proud of. His first crack at pro ball had landed him among the Braves' top prospects. As a 17-year-old, he slashed .364/.446/.444 with 22 stolen bases in 27 tries in 57 Rookie-level games in 2014. For 38 of those games, he was the third-youngest position player in the Appalachian League. Still, questions remained. At 5-foot-9, Albies doesn't have the prototypical shortstop body, and 57 Rookie-level games is hardly the kind of sample that makes for accurate big league projections.
With his 2015 season, though, Albies answered those questions, illustrating exactly the kind of player he is. Facing predominantly older players in the Class A South Atlantic League, the Curacao-born switch-hitter batted .310 (tied for third in the circuit) with a .368 on-base percentage, eight triples, 21 doubles and 29 steals before an injury ended his season after 98 games. All the while, he provided Rome with strong service at shortstop -- occasionally making eye-popping plays -- as well as intangibles. Braves assistant director of player development Jonathan Schuerholz has praised his energy and attitude and said Albies may move up a couple levels during the 2016 season.
Albies spoke to MiLB.com from his home in the Caribbean, where temperatures were in the high 80s on a February afternoon.
MiLB.com: Last season was your first full year and you had a great campaign while you were just 18 in the South Atlantic League. Now that it's behind you, what stands out to you most about that experience?
Albies: I remember the days before the season when they told me that I need to go out there and work my butt off and show what I can do. Before the season, nobody liked me because I was little and everything. Most people didn't expect me to do so much.
MiLB.com: In April, you had a rough couple weeks, with the hits not coming. Was it hard to stay patient and have faith they were going to start falling for you?
Albies: It was not so hard because even the hitting coach [Bobby Moore] told me to stay relaxed. He said, 'This is your first full season -- just relax.' Even my agent, he told me I have to be really patient. And as soon as I hit the first one, every one started coming my way.
When I wasn't getting hits, I was not mad. I was not angry or anything, I was just patient. I knew I had to try and try and try and play hard, and it would happen.
MiLB.com: In the beginning of May, you started getting two or three hits just about every night. Was that about getting used to the league? The weather? Finding some confidence? A combination of things?
Albies: I had never played in cold weather before because down here [in Curacao], it's 90-something degrees every day. And I just started hitting in the May weather better. I'm not saying it as an excuse. Whatever the weather is, I know I need to play hard every day. But May was my month to start hitting last year.
| "I always wanted to play shortstop, no matter what. Always."
-- Ozzie Albies
MiLB.com: And in the middle of the season, you got to go play in the Futures Game. What was that like?
Albies: For me, it was a great experience. I've never played in front of so many people. There was a whole bunch of fans. When I got to the stadium and started practicing, I was nervous, but after my first at-bat, my nervousness was all gone. And [after], that's when I got my hit.
MiLB.com: In August, you fractured your thumb while on defense. What happened?
Albies: It was a pickoff at second base. The game was tied in the eighth inning, The guy threw a wide throw and the only chance I had to stop the baseball was to catch it with my bare hand, so I tried to catch it and it hit my thumb.
MiLB.com: Were you depressed to learn that you'd miss the rest of the season?
Albies: I didn't feel anything at the time the ball hit me. I just kept playing. Then, when I cooled off in the dugout, I felt a cramp, a cramp and a lot of pain. The trainer said they had to take me out of the game, and they sent me to medical [staff] in Atlanta. They told me there that I fractured my thumb and I wasn't going to be able to play the rest of the season.
I was mad at the time, but the manager [Randy Ingle] was like, "Take the time. Take it and be ready to go next season."
• PROSPECTive: Lightning round with Ozzie Albies
MiLB.com: Not a lot of players who are still in their teens get to attend big league camp, but you get to this month. What are you hoping to do there?
Albies: Oh, I'm so happy. I'm so excited to get to the States. I'm just ready to do it. I'm ready to get on a flight right now, I'm so excited to come to the States for Spring Training. I like hearing from guys that made it before. I don't know -- I'm just going to do the thing I always do: go hard, play the game the right way and try to stay there. That's my goal, to play in the big leagues, so I'm going to try to stay in big league camp as long as I can.
MiLB.com: During that 2015 season, you also played yourself on to MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, and you're starting this season at No. 29. Is that something you're aware of?
Albies: Yes, my trainer told me when I first made it on, I think at first I was No. 86 or something. He said, "Hey, you're a Top 100 prospect now." I was like, "Whoa, that's so great!" I'd seen [fellow Curacaoan] Jurickson Profar on the list before, so I'm happy about that. It makes my family happy. My mom -- everybody in my family, but especially my mom -- gets really excited. She sees all kinds of things about me on Facebook, Twitter, and she's always showing them to me. That makes me happy because I'm playing for my family. I go hard for them.
MiLB.com: You went to the Braves' FanFest a couple weeks ago. What was that like?
Albies: Meeting all the big leaguers was so great for me. They came over to me and they all talked to me -- Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman. It was a great experience, talking to all of them. It made me say, "I want to do this every year."
MiLB.com: Had you met Andruw Jones before?
Albies: Yes, I met him before, since he's from Curacao.
MiLB.com: It used to be San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic had a reputation as the place where a lot of shortstops come from, but now there've been a few high-profile shortstops coming out of Curacao -- Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar, Didi Gregorius. Do you see yourself as part of a new tradition?
Albies: Yeah, I feel it. I do, because whenever I practice with them, they always tell me that when they were my age, they never played the game like that. "How do you mean?" I ask them, "You made it! I didn't make it yet." They say, "Yeah, but the way you're playing now, we didn't play that year. I was in a slump the whole year," or, "I was not so [focused]" or "I didn't have the chance to play at shortstop every day."
I told them I'm having fun playing the game. I put God first and go straight his way and try to win the game.
MiLB.com: People in the Atlanta front office have said that in addition to what you do on the field, your attitude and personality are a real bonus for your team. Is being that kind of guy -- and having people recognize that -- something that makes you proud?
Albies: I like to treat everybody right. Even if you treat me bad, I still want to treat you right. If you treat me bad, I'm not going to cuss and get angry and say bad things because I like to be happy every day.
I like to joke every day, to be happy every day. Every minute of every day, I like to have my teeth out, smiling. I always talk and joke with the guys. Last year, with [double play partner] Omar Obregon, it was like we always had to be laughing, smiling every day. For us, joking and laughing was like a routine ground ball that you make the same every day.
When you're having fun, everything is going to go easier and you're going to be better. Obregon and me were in a slump at the same time, and we were still having that fun. Then we started hitting and we were having the same fun, still. If you lose a game, you're not smiling and laughing in the dugout because that's disrespectful to your teammates, but when you get home you try to be happy because you can't change the game now anyway.
I come from Curacao in the Caribbean and I was raised up by my mom and a little with my father, who passed away, and my mom was always teaching me how to treat people. [My father] passed away three years ago, but he worked a lot in the day, so in the house it was only my mom.
MiLB.com: And when did you start playing baseball?
Albies: I started playing when I was 6.
MiLB.com: When did you start being a switch-hitter?
Albies: When I was 13, 14, because the Braves came down to see me when I was little. They said, "Hey, we want to see you hit from both sides of the plate," so that's when I started swinging it.
MiLB.com: Did you always want to be a shortstop?
Albies: I always wanted to play shortstop, no matter what. Always. When I was younger, I was liking seeing Jose Reyes at shortstop every day. Right now, I like watching Gregorius, even still Jose Reyes, [Troy] Tulowitzki, [Alcides] Escobar from Kansas City. But for me right now, my favorite to watch is Simmons.
MiLB.com: Were you sad to see him leave the organization?
Albies: At the time they told me he was traded, I thought, "That's weird. He was doing his job so good," but what can we do? He got traded. I was a little sad because he was raised up in the Braves. But this is life. We cannot do anything about it.
MiLB.com: Of course, the Braves are in rebuild mode right now. They've made a few trades for prospects, bringing in a couple of young pitchers with that Simmons deal. Even though Simmons is gone, are you excited to be in that system at a time when there's a lot of other young talent there?
Albies: I like to be in the Braves system right now, yes. I like to play the game and wherever they tell me to play, I will be playing hard. I want to get to the big leagues, and I can play wherever they want me to so I can get there.
MiLB.com: Yeah, another part of that rebuild was bringing Dansby Swanson, another top shortstop prospect, into the system. Have the Braves talked to you about what that does or doesn't mean for your role?
Albies: Nobody from Atlanta told me, but I hear about it from Twitter people. All the fans are saying that they want to see us in the big leagues, with either me at second and him at shortstop or him at second and me at short. I don't care where they put me just as long as I can play.
MiLB.com: You can have just as much fun playing second base as shortstop?
Albies: If that's where they want me to play, then I will have just as much fun there.
MiLB.com: Did you meet him at FanFest?
Albies: No, I didn't see him because he was in a different group from me. And when I had the chance to look for him, he'd already had to go. But I will see him in Spring Training and we will work in Spring Training.
MiLB.com: Silly question: Do you have more fun hitting a double or hitting a single and stealing second?
Albies: Let me tell you, I have more fun hitting a triple. You know why? Because when you hit a ball into the gap and you make the turn from first base heading to second and you're in the middle of second and first, you can see the outfielder thinking you're stopping at second when he's getting the ball. I like that race when you're going to third and you know the throw is coming. Then when you slide in safe and you turn around and you can see everybody clapping, I love that.
I do love to hit a single, steal second base and run home on a base hit, too, especially if it's a walk-off hit, you know? Oh, that's the greatest.