Last offseason, the Braves sought to fill their second base hole by signing Sean Rodriguez. He was intended to be the primary second baseman with his versatility allowing them to move him around the diamond when Ozzie Albies was ready. After his car accident and subsequent surgery, the Braves pivoted to Brandon Phillips. He was a similar player in the sense that the Braves would have no problem moving him off second to make room for Albies, but his lack of versatility made that more challenging. All told, between logging innings at second and third, Phillips contributed a mere 1.6 fWAR in 499 total PAs. While his .291 batting average stood out in the box score, he has little else to his game. His 3.8% walk rate was absymal, his isolated power was league average, he stole only 10 bases in 18 chances, and he played mediocre defense at best. In fact, Baseball Reference hated his defense so much that they rated his overall preference at 1 WAR, less than league average, largely due to his poor defense.
But Ozzie Albies was a different ballplayer. Ozzie does a little bit of everything. In 244 PAs, his walk rate was more than double that of Phillips’ (8.6% to 3.8%). He contributed some power (.171 ISO), controlled his strike outs (14.8%), stole 8 bases in 9 chances, and his defense was rated highly. In those 244 PAs, he was able to accumulate 1.9 fWAR. Over a full season, that would equate to a 4.6 fWAR season. The projection systems don’t like him to repeat that performance, predicting a sophomore slump by his rookie standards. Steamer has him a 2.1 fWAR, though Baseball Reference likes him a little more.
Regardless, the Braves have their second baseman of the future (assuming Dansby Swanson isn’t going anywhere) in Ozzie Albies. He’s also the first truly elite prospect to make his debut in Atlanta in several years. Perhaps it’s prospect fatigue, perhaps it’s our desire to dwell on the negative (Dansby’s rookie struggles), or our fixation on the transcendent prospect (Ronald Acuna) or our deep pitching prospects, Albies just simply doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves. He has been ranked as high as #11 on Baseball America’s prospect lists, and at his peak, his ceiling is a perennial All-Star. It wouldn’t be beyond the scope to expect a .300/.380/.450 line with strong defense and 30+ stolen bases once Albies hits his peak, though it would be unreasonable to expect that batting line from him this season. With that said, fans should expect the speed and defense to make an immediate impact.
As it sits, you should see Charlie Culberson serve as Albies’ primary backup. Culberson is 28, came over in the Matt Kemp trade, and has only produced a .231/.272/.324 career line in 443 PAs. He did hit one big home run in last year’s World Series, though:
Speaking of that, he did pull off a more impressive performance in the post season compared to his career numbers. In 25 PAs primarily off the bench, he hit .348/.333/.652 with that big home run, 2 doubles, and a triple. He’s probably no better than Jace Peterson, but he has options, and options are good.