After ascendant Braves prospect Ronald Acuna made a splendid catch to prevent at least one run from scoring in the top of the fourth inning, the Braves scored three runs to tie in the bottom of the inning.
So even when Acuna doesn’t get a hit, the five-tool phenom made his presence felt in Thursday’s 6-4 loss against the World Series champion Astros at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
The Astros increased their lead to 3-0 on Tyler White’s one-out homer in the fourth against Lucas Sims, who had entered to start the inning after starter Scott Kazmir gave up two runs and four hits in three innings.
Sims was having a rough go of it, allowing an A.J. Reed double to the the base of the right-center wall after the homer, then hitting a batter with a pitch before No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp singled to load the bases.
After striking out Jake Marisnick, Sims gave up a flare to Derek Fisher that looked like it would fall for a single in front of left fielder Acuna. But the 20-year-old prospect didn’t concede the hit, instead charging in and diving to make a catch before he slammed into the ground and retained control of the ball.
If it had gotten past him, the bases likely would have been cleared.
Acuna always plays aggressively in the outfield, unafraid to attempt diving catches regardless of the score and whether or not there are runners on base. He did it throughout a 2017 season that he started at high Single-A and finished at Triple-A, and kept doing it in the Arizona Fall League, where he was the youngest MVP in the history of that prospect-laden league.
“Just like he did the other night, the first inning, first batter,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, referring to another diving catcher Acuna made this week. “He’s an instinctive, really good outfielder. I have a feeling no matter where you put him in the outfield, we’re going to see that.
“The kid’s got unbelievable trust in his ability. Guys that are instinctual like that and have that skills set, they like making those plays.”
The consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, Acuna had a seven-game hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-2 in two plate appearances Thursday, after entering with a .423 average (11-for-26) and .500 OBP in his first nine games.
He’s competing for the opening-day left field job, but is more likely to arrive in mid-April for service-time reasons, as the Braves can assure an extra (seventh) season of contractual control by keeping him in Triple-A until at least April 13.