The Atlanta Braves are a team on the rise. They have seven of the Top 100 Prospects in baseball according to mlbpipeline.com. Among them, none are more talented than a 6-foot 180-lb outfielder from La Guaira, Venezuela, Ronald Acuña.
The Braves signed the young prodigy to a $100,000 contract back in July 2014. Since then he’s climbed his way through their system and has established himself as one of the premier prospects in all of baseball.
Drawing comparisons to Braves great Andrew Jones, Acuña has a lot to live up to. He’s a natural centerfielder with the ability to transition to a corner. Blocked by All-Star centerfielder and 2-time Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte, Acuña profiles more as a corner outfielder for the Braves with the ability to run balls down with efficient routes and plus-speed.
Last season, Acuña was promoted through three levels of the minor leagues, spending time with the Florida Fire Frogs (A+), Mississippi Braves (AA), and Gwinnett Braves (AAA). He hit .325 with 21 home runs and 82 RBI in 139 games while stealing 44 bases.
What is unique about Acuña’s ascension through the minor leagues in such a short time is his level of success. As the level of play became tougher, his performance got better.
His advanced approach at the plate helped improve his batting average from .287 in A-ball to .326 in AA to .344 in AAA. Scouts have also noted that he has begun to show more home run power in games, a tool that has been most impressive during his batting practice displays.
Meanwhile, Acuña’s excellence was well-recognized as he was named 2017’s Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America.
That was not the only honor Acuña took home this year. After playing in the six-week-long Arizona Fall League (a showcase league of baseball’s top prospects), he took home the Joe Black MVP Award. He hit .325 with 7 home runs, 22 runs scored, and 53 total bases in just 23 games for the AFL champion, the Peoria Javelinas.
Other notable winners of the award include Nolan Arenado (2011) and Kris Bryant (2013).
Another crazy fact that most people don’t realize about Acuña is that he turns 20 in December. That’s right, he’s still a teenager!
While he is expected to make his major league debut at some point in 2018, many are wondering if will he make the Braves Opening Day roster. The Braves already have their three starting outfielders under contract for 2018 in Kemp, Inciarte, and Markakis.
It would be a burdensome undertaking for the Braves to try to get Acuña playtime at the major league level especially early in the season when every team still considers itself a playoff contender. A more likely scenario is that we see Acuña promoted as a mid-season injury replacement and later on take at-bats away from the Braves’ veteran corner outfielders.
The Braves have exceptional talent and potential in Ronald Acuña. He will be making an impact in the major leagues sooner than later. The only question is how soon.
When it comes to the bigger picture, the Braves haven’t made the playoffs in four years. In 2017, they were the oldest team in the league with an average player age of 30.4 years. Who knows? Maybe a youthful injection of energy is just what Atlanta needs to get back into contention in the National League East.
My name is Sam Starosciak and I am a recent graduate of Arizona State University majoring in Business Data Analytics.