The List: Most Aggressive Opening Day Assignments

Every week during the minor league season, we’ll pick out some aspect of the game to rank. This week, we’re looking at the 10 most aggressive Opening Day assignments of the 2016 season.

1. Ozzie Albies, ss, Double-A Mississippi (Braves)

Age: 19. Spent 2015 At: low Class A Rome.

Coming out of spring training, the Braves had a problem—a good one. Albies, coming off an excellent year in low Class A, was ready to head to high Class A Carolina. And Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft who was acquired from the Diamondbacks in the offseason, was also seemingly ready to head to high Class A. Swanson had not played full-season ball last year because he was slowed after being hit by a pitch, but coming off of three years in the Southeastern Conference, low Class A would likely not provide enough of a challenge.

The Braves could send the two to the same team and have them split shortstop duties while the other slid to second base or designated hitter. Or they could ask one of them to jump another level. Atlanta decided to send Albies to Double-A Mississippi, making him the 19-year-old the youngest player in any Double-A league.

After Albies starred in an extended trial with the big league club in spring training (.371/.421/.486 in 35 at-bats), the Braves were assured that he could handle the jump.

“Everywhere he’s gone he’s risen to the challenge,” Braves assistant director for player development Jonathan Schuerholz said. “The stage was never too bright for him. You see what he handled in big league camp. This is a special young man who looks a challenge in the face and looks at it as a positive.”

Albies has hit .364/.391/.409 in his first five games with Mississippi, so it’s not been much of a problem so far. The Braves know that it might not always come so easily for Albies at Double-A, but they trust that his excellent makeup will allow him to work through any slumps.

“It was a big decision for us. Had we not had Dansby, it may have been an easy decision to send him to high Class A,” Schuerholz said. “Ozzie had shown us enough that if he does go through a rough stretch he should be able to handle it.”

2. Luis Urias, ss, high Class A Lake Elsinore (Padres)

Age: 18. Spent 2015 Season At: Extended spring training followed by short-season Tri-City and low Class A Fort Wayne.

The Padres have been comfortable pushing Urias quickly for three years now. Signed out of Mexico as a 16-year-old, Urias was promoted to the Arizona League after just 10 at-bats in the Dominican Summer League in 2014. He hit .310/.393/.355 for the AZL Padres as a 17-year-old, then handled a jump to low Class A Fort Wayne in 2015. Now he’s the youngest player in the California League. Urias has gained weight and strength since signing, but his best attribute is an advanced understanding of the strike zone.

3. Paul DeJong, 3b, Double-A Springfield and 4. Harrison Bader, of, Double-A Springfield (Cardinals)

Ages: 21 (Bader) 22 (DeYoung). Spent 2015 Season At: low Class A Peoria

The Cardinals drafted Bader in the third round and DeJong in the fourth round of last June’s draft. The two have seemingly been tied together ever since, as they played together at Peoria and then skipped high Class A to Double-A to start their first full pro season. It’s almost impossible for a college player to rank among the youngest players in a league since they are starting their pro careers three years later than high school players, and often five years later than international signees. But Bader ranks as the 10th-youngest player in the Texas League thanks to the Cardinals’ aggressive assignment. Bader is hitting .440 with a league-leading 11 hits so far, so he’s handling the jump with no initial issues. DeJong has had a little more trouble with 10 strikeouts in his first 24 plate appearances.

5. Anderson Espinoza, rhp and 6. Roniel Raudes, rhp, low Class A Greenville (Red Sox)

Ages: 18. Spent 2015 Season At: Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League.

Espinoza did make it to Greenville for one start at the end of last year, but the two youngest players in the South Atlantic League are joining Greenville’s rotation after only the briefest of times in the Rookie ball. Both Raudes and Espinoza have had no problems in their first start as they each threw five hitless innings.

7. Drew Jackson, ss, high Class A Bakersfield (Mariners)

Age: 22. Spent 2015 Season At: Short-season Everett

In a year where the Mariners were conservative in their promotions, Jackson is the exception. Seattle skipped him over low Class A after an outstanding 2015 debut at Everett. The fifth-rounder was the league MVP with a .358 batting average and 47 steals in 51 attempts. Jackson was ranked as the Mariners’ No. 3 prospect coming into the season. With a strong first half to validate his 2015 breakout, he could be the team’s No. 1 prospect at the midseason.

8. Alex Bregman, ss, Double-A Corpus Christi (Astros)

Age: 22. Spent 2015 Season At: low Class A Quad Cities/high Class A Lancaster

Bregman did get to spend some time at Lancaster last year, so he’s not technically skipping a level, but he had only 272 pro at-bats coming into the year, so this is still a very aggressive assignment. His experience at Louisiana State and with USA Baseball should help him handle the jump, but there might be an additional reason to push Bregman. Houston has an extremely deep team, but if something happened to Carlos Correa, the team has limited options on who would step up to fill his unfillable shoes. Bregman might be the best option before long and a move to Double-A will help get him ready in case of emergency.

9. Omar Estevez, 2b, low Class A Great Lakes (Dodgers)

Age: 18. Spent 2015 Season At: Did not play, signed 2016 contract.

As a 16-year-old, Estevez was one of the youngest players in Cuba’s Serie Nacional before coming to the States. He’s shaking off any rust with an aggressive jump to full-season ball in his U.S. debut. The cultural aspects of his transition might be just as tough as the level of play, but as an 18-year-old with a recent birthday, Estevez is also the youngest player in the Midwest League.

10. Lucius Fox, ss, low Class A Augusta (Giants)

Age: 18. Spent 2015 Season At: Did not play, signed 2016 contract.

Age-wise, Fox isn’t being pushed all that quickly as he’ll turn 19 during the 2016 season. But after signing a record $6 million bonus last year, Fox is making an aggressive jump as he’s gone from participating in only workouts and instructional league last year to handling a full-season job in his pro debut.

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