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Worth the hype: Recapping Ronald Acuna’s memorable season

The season is over for budding superstar Braves outfielder prospect Ronald Acuna. No, he won’t taste the majors in September. But his name won’t exactly be out of the headlines until March.

Acuna was named USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year on Wednesday. MLB Pipeline anointed him its minor league Hitter of the Year after Acuna posted a season with more than 20 homers and more than 40 steals across Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. 

In 139 games over three levels, he hit .325 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs, and he stole 44 bases. It was just his third season of professional baseball.  

Promoted to Gwinnett on July 13, Acuna became the youngest player in Triple-A. He proceeded to lead the International League in hits, runs scored, extra-base hits and total bases. His August was particularly eye-opening. Acuna collected 47 hits, 24 runs and 20 RBIs in route to minor league player of the month. He won Player of the Week for his performance Aug. 14-20, in which he hit three homers with eight RBIs on a six-game road trip. 

“I’ll tell you this: He’s produced at every level,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill said. “He’s a special kid. At 19, he still has stuff he needs to work on. But he’s a talented kid. I believe he’s going to have success.”

player of the year of minor leagues Thank you God 🙏💪🙌 dime rápido @marte06

A post shared by EL ABUSADOR⚡️⚡️🔥🔥 (@ronaldacuna24) on

Acuna wasn’t expected to become the crown jewel of the Braves’ rebuild. He was signed for $100,000 out of Venezuela during the Frank Wren regime (2014). A broken thumb kept him out of action from mid-May to mid-August in 2016. 

But he exploded onto the scene this go-around. Entering the season as the Braves’ No. 6 prospect, per Baseball America, and unranked in the top 100, Acuna catapulted to the top of the Braves’ system, and maybe the top of everybody’s system. In an era where five-tool players have become rarer, Acuna might be the generational talent the next-era Braves need.

Despite that, he won’t join the major-league club this season, but he’s eagerly awaiting that moment.

“It’s always in my head,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “Every time I did better, it always gets to my head. I’m like, one step away to being (with) the big club. So everything is coming to my head so quickly.” 

The AJC has followed Acuna’s rise closely. Here are some highlights from the phenom’s season: 

-David O’Brien outlined the reasons the Braves won’t promote Acuna this month. Expect him to compete for a spot on the 2018 opening-day roster.

-Acuna spoke with me about his meteoric climb and his love for baseball.

-Upon arrival in Gwinnett, Acuna’s teammates said he was worth the hype.

-Acuna garnered attention at the minor league All-Star game in Miami.

-Acuna hit a 114-mph homer, the hardest hit by a Brave at any level (including majors) this season.

-Ozzie Albies and Acuna have already developed a bond, consider each other brothers.

-Mark Bradley looks at the decision to hold Acuna in the minors this season.

-Acuna, along with seven other Braves, will play in the Arizona Fall League from Oct. 10 through Nov. 18.

-Dansby Swanson saw Acuna up close during his Triple-A stint, and he’s never seen anything like it.

-Tim Tucker explains that despite rebuilding around pitching, the Braves best prospect is an outfielder.

-In Ronald Acuna, it’s hard not to see shades of Andruw Jones.

-Steve Hummer visited with Acuna and other young Braves in Mississippi.

-Chipper Jones can’t help but to be impressed with the 19-year-old.

-Acuna shined at spring training, writes Michael Cunningham.

-Braves manager Brian Snitker can’t wait to manage Acuna.

-Nine things to know about Acuna.

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