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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Pendleton on Albies: ‘It doesn’t matter how big you are’

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  DARK STAR, Fla. – Through the Braves’ first six Grapefruit League games, the youngest guy on the Braves’ camp roster, and I dare say the smallest guy in all of major league spring training, was 6-for-10 with a homer, four RBIs, two walks and no strikeouts. Ozzie Albies also had two walks and no strikeouts, for a .667 OBP.

Say hello to the latest Braves import from Curacao, the tiny island that produced two of the greatest defensive players in franchise history, Andruw Jones and Andrelton Simmons.

Ozzie Albies has impressed Braves coaches and manager Fredi Gonzalez during the first couple of weeks of spring training workouts and games. The undersized infielder from Curacao only turned 19 in January. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Ozzie Albies has impressed Braves coach Terry Pendleton during the first two weeks of spring training workouts and games. The undersized infielder from Curacao only turned 19 in January. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Did we mention that Albies only turned 19 in January, weighs about 160 pounds soaking wet, and is generously listed as 5 feet 9 (actual height? Perhaps 5-6 or 5-7).

“In this game it doesn’t matter how big you are,” said Braves first-base coach and infield instructor Terry Pendleton, another guy who was a bit undersized for his position (a 5-foot-9 third baseman), and who won the 1991 National League MVP award and was MVP runner-up in ’92.

“I think it’s the ability, the heart to keep battling when times are tough, and the mindset. You’ve got to have a different mindset,” Pendleton said. “Albies didn’t get here because he had a nonchalant mindset. He got here because he didn’t’ care what people thought of him. They probably say, ‘Oh, you’re not big enough, you can’t do this, you can’t do that…’ He can do all of it.

“And he has the attitude and the mindset that he can, also.”

Count Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer among those impressed by Albies.

“Oh, yeah. Very impressed,” Seitzer said. “Amazing, actually. He’s fun to watch. He’s put some (at-bats) together that have been really impressive. The big thing that I saw when he came to camp was how much stronger he was. I asked him what he weighed and he said he put on about nine pounds from last year. And you can tell. Hands are quicker, He’s a pretty exciting little dude to watch, that’s for sure.”

Albies has a .328 batting average and .395 OBP with 40 extra-base hits (11 triples, one homer) and 51 stolen bases in 155 games (678 plate appearances) over two minor league seasons — rookie ball in 2014 and 98 games at low-A Rome in 2015.

But watching him this spring, one might not believe he’d played no games above the low-A level.

“The AB he put on (Sunday), fouling all those pitches off and then lining the single, was really exciting,” Seitzer said. “His recognition has been the big thing that’s impressed me. That guy had a pretty good changeup (Sunday), and he got fooled I think on 0-1, and then he locked in and wasn’t fooled on anything the rest of the at-bat. I mean, he was on, and grinding, and ended up having a long AB and got the hit.”

Dansby Swanson has a similar mindset, Pendleton said. Swanson is the Braves’ other elite shortstop prospect and No. 1 overall prospect in the organization. He’s three years older than Albies, having played at Vanderbilt and been the top overall pick in the June 2015 draft.

The two will eventually form the Braves’ up-the-middle double play combination, perhaps for many years, after team officials decide at some point which of them will switch to second base.

“Both of them, they’re not very big kids but they know how to play baseball,” said Pendleton, who doesn’t lavish praise upon youngsters unless he genuinely believes it’s deserved.

He made the comments about Albies and Swanson before each made his first start last Wednesday against the Orioles in Sarasota, after working with both players and a few other young Braves infielders for nearly a week, including early morning extra ground balls.

A couple hours after Pendleton’s comments, Albies went 3-for-5 with a homer and a two-run single. He’s smaller than even Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, about the same height but not as thick as Altuve.  But Albies is wiry strong, with a powerful handshake and a physique seemingly constructed almost entirely of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Swanson (3-for-12, one double this spring) hasn’t had a breakout game yet, but he’s made a couple of nice plays, including leaping catch against the Mets on Sunday, and he’s impressed in workouts.

The general consensus entering camp was that Swanson, because of his age and three years of college experience, could make his debut at some point in 2016 or no later than 2017, while Albies might be a year or two behind him.

But Albies, in the first couple of weeks, is giving reason to believe perhaps his ETA could be moved up a bit.

“Yeah, he’s been fun to watch,” Seitzer said. “I’m excited to see what happens as camp unfolds and we see… maybe he might force somebody’s hand. I don’t know.”

It’s probably too early to reassess the timetable, as it were, but even before Albies had a hit in spring training he impressed a guy who doesn’t impress easily. TP.

He’s a baseball player,” Pendleton said. “With a lot of skills, too. It’ll be interesting to see their (Albies’ and Swanson’s) progress here, how well they play here, how well they do as they’re playing here. Doing the drills in our early morning work … they’re both really good at what they do. Whether I put them at second or short, both of them have an idea of it already.

“We just have to keep working (while they’re in major league camp), make sure they get enough work here.”

I mentioned to Pendleton that Albies seems like a tough kid, that he seemed determined to prove skeptics wrong. Driven.

“Driven’s a better word, no doubt about it,” Pendleton said. “He just believes he can and he will succeed, and he will. He has the tools to do so.”

As for all the players who’ve come out of Curacaco in the past couple of decades, including the two previously mentioned Braves multi-Gold Glove winners, Pendleton put it simply: “They’ll keep coming. Because they all love the game.”

• Let’s close with this slab of perfect rock ‘n’ soul from The Isley Brothers

“THAT LADY” by The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers

Who’s that lady? Who’s that lady?
Beautiful lady, who’s that lady?
Lovely lady, who’s that lady?
Real fine lady, who’s that lady?Hear me callin’ out to you
‘Cause it’s all that I can do
Your eyes tell me to pursue
But you say look yeah but don’t touch, baby
Nah, nah, nah don’t touchWho’s that lady? Who’s that lady?
Sexy lady, who’s that lady?
Beautiful lady, who’s that lady?
Real fine lady, who’s that lady?I would dance upon a string
Any gift she’d wanna bring
I would give her anything
If she would just do what I say
Come ’round my way baby, shine my way

Who’s that lady? Who’s that lady?
Beautiful lady, who’s that lady?
Lovely lady, who’s that lady?
Real fine lady, who’s that lady?

I would love to take her home
But her heart is made of stone
I would keep on keepin’ on
If I don’t she’ll do me wrong
Do me wrong, yeah

 

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