The rapid rise of Braves outfield prospect Ronald Acuna continued Thursday with a move from Double-A Mississippi to Triple-A Gwinnett. There’s nowhere else to promote the 19-year-old phenom now except the majors.
Acuna, one of the youngest players in the upper minor leagues, had quite an auspicious Triple-A debut, hitting a home run for his first hit with Gwinnett and finished 3-for-5 with a walk, two RBIs and three runs scored in Gwinnett’s 13-4 win at Charlotte.
He did that four days after playing for the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game in Miami, where he drew oohs and ahhs with his power display during batting practice. Also, it’s the second time Acuna had three hits beginning with a homer in his debut at a new level this season — he did it May 9 in his first game after a promotion to Double-A.
Last week Acuna was named the No. 1 prospect in the Braves’ talent-rich minor league system and No. 10 overall by Baseball America in its midseason Top 100. He won’t turn 20 until December, and it’s possibl he’ll make his major league debut this season if the Braves have an outfield need or if they want him to get a taste of the big leagues in September.
“It’s been exciting to watch Ronald grow as a player throughout this transcendant season,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “We want to provide opportunities to our young players, and he’s met every challenge. He’s got such a bright future.”
Acuna, who can play all three outfield positions and play them well, finished with a flourish in Double-A, going 3-for-4 on Wednesday. Including his Gwinnett debut Thursday, he’s hit .400 in his past 10 games and has four homers and eight RBIs in his past eight games.
After starting the season in high-Single A Florida State League, the speedy, powerful teen thrived as one of the younger players in all of Double-A, batting .326 with 24 extra-base hits (nine home runs) and 19 stolen bases in 57 games, with a .374 on-base percentage, .520 slugging percentage and .895 OPS
The confident Venezuelan, a bona-fide five-tool player, has opened eyes — and left jaws on the floor — with his exploits all year, beginning in spring training, where Acuna was brought over from minor league camp to play in 13 major league Grapefruit League games. It’s highly unusual for a Braves minor leaguer to be brought over that frequently, and Acuna hit .296 with a .387 OBP in Grapefruit League play despite having no experience above low-Single A at the time.
Retired Braves great Chipper Jones, now a special assistant with the team, was blown away by Acuna’s spring performance and the kid’s fearlessness. He compared Acuna’s all-around skills with those of Andruw Jones, a longtime former teammate who won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves as Braves center fielder and made his major league debut at 19.
“In spring training it was fun to watch,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, adding that he told Jonathan Schuerholz, assistant director of player development, “if you’re going to send the kid over don’t expect him to get a day off because I want to play him. He was fun to watch.”
Snitker looks for Acuna on daily reports that the manager receives from each of the Braves’ minor league affiliates.
“I read the reports, and the thing I saw there was in-game adjustments, in-at-bat adjustments that he made,” Snitker said. “Defensively, I still think of that throw he made in Jupiter (spring training game) against the Cardinals. On a ball down the line. And just how talented that kid was, how aware of everything.
“You watch his at-bats. For a 19-year-old, it’s pretty advanced. He’s got that natural instinct and ability.”
Acuna began the season in high Single-A and was promoted after 28 games to Mississippi, competing against mostly players several years older. In 86games this season across three minor league levels he’s hit .316 with a .366 OBP, 36 extra-base hits (six triples, 13 home runs), 51 RBIs, 33 stolen bases and an .882 OPS.
He’s been so impressive that experts are making some serious adjustments in his rating among the sport’s top prospects. Acuna jumped from No. 62 in Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 to No. 10. No one else in BA’s updated top 10 had been rated lower than 16th in the preseason list and no one in the new top 15 had been rated below 22nd.
Left-hander Kolby Allard was rated the Braves’ No. 2 prospect by Baseball America and came in at No. 23 in the midseason Top 100, up from 28th in the preseason list. Triple-A second baseman Ozzie Albies was next among Braves at No. 25 in the BA midseason list, down from No. 8 in the preseason Top 100.