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Atlanta Braves sign North Battleford, Sask. pitcher Andrew Albers

Andrew Albers #63 of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 8, 2013 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images

Saskatchewan pitcher Andrew Albers, 31, says his newest contract with the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball (MLB) will be a great opportunity for him to move up to the big leagues.

The free agent felt signing the minor league contract this off-season was the best fit for him at this point in his career. He will most likely start the season with the team’s triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves.

“We feel like there might be an opportunity if I really perform well to get an opportunity at the next level,” Albers said over the phone from his hometown of North Battleford, Sask.

“Now it’s up to me to make sure that I go in and do my job and come in as ready as possible and hopefully perform and have a really good season and force them to make a decision and hopefully it’s a tough one and who knows, maybe you get that opportunity.”

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It’s an opportunity Albers hopes will lead to a permanent spot on the Braves roster, having played the majority of his professional career in the minor leagues.

“Minor league baseball isn’t very glorious or glamorous … we maybe had five days off last year with the exception of our all-star break, which was three, so imagine playing 142 games in 150 days,” Albers said.

“Certainly as a pitcher, or at least as a starter, it’s a little different because we only pitch once every fifth game so that’s nice, but those position guys have to play every day so it’s definitely a long season for them and that’s one of the challenges that comes with playing baseball.”

His goal for 2017 is stay clear of any injuries so he can be ready if Atlanta calls.

“Try to stay healthy and then you give yourself an opportunity to possibly help the big league club and from there it’s always about trying to get back up to the big leagues and contribute … and get off to a good start in triple-A,” said the left-hander.

“I felt like it was a good fit, certainly had some struggles on the mound last year pitching-wise in the big leagues … lots of things can happen in baseball. All it takes is an injury or two and hopefully as you’re performing well you get that opportunity and that’s kind of what I’m looking for right now.”

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READ MORE: North Battleford’s Albers shines in MLB debut

Albers is one of a handful of baseball players from Saskatchewan to play in the majors. So far, only nine players from the province have done so, with Albers becoming the eighth when he made his debut with the Minnesota Twins in 2013.

“[Saskatchewan’s] getting a lot better now with coaching and the facilities that are around, you have the Academy of Martin there and there’s also a baseball academy in Saskatoon now so hopefully those kinds of things will pay dividends,” Albers said.

“There are a lot of good things going on with baseball in the province and hopefully we’ll see those good things develop into some good professional players at some point in time.”

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Spring camp with the Atlanta Braves in Florida will be a little different for Albers due to the World Baseball Classic this year. His attendance will depend on how far he and Team Canada go in March.

“We’re in a pool with the U.S., the Dominican and Columbia so it will be a tough pool. Top two teams advance, it’s a round-robin format so we’ll see what happens and it will be tough to advance out of that but hopefully we can find a way,” he said.

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