Wren’s former top assistant shares thoughts on Acuna, Albies, et al

His full name is Ozhaino Jurdy Jiandro Albies. His last name is pronounced “ALL-bies.” He was born Jan. 7, 1997 in Willemstad, Curacao. Two key former Braves from Curacao are Andruw Jones and Andrelton Simmons. The Braves signed him in July 2013. He made his major league debut Aug. 1, 2017. Albies' home run off Tony Cingrani on Aug. 3 was his first major league homer. That also was the first homer hit by a player born in 1997. He is a switch-hitter, learning to do that in 2013.

Sitting at Tropicana Field the past two days, watching the Braves face the Rays, Bruce Manno had to feel some sense of satisfaction watching players signed when Manno was top assistant to then-Braves general manager Frank Wren.

Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo....

“It’s exciting to see some of these kids, what they’re doing and how they’re performing,” said Manno, now a major league scout for the Cincinnati Reds. “I think it’s great. It’s good for them. I have to say, I’m not shocked by it at all.”

Acuna and Albies, the two youngest position players in the majors, have emerged as potential long-term cornerstone players. They were signed for a combined total of $450,000 by the Wren regime, when Johnny Almarez was director of international scouting.

“It’s great. I’m really happy for those guys and what they’ve accomplished,” Manno said, “and I think there’s a lot in front of them yet.”

Acuna’s home run Tuesday accounted for the only scoring in a Braves win and made him the youngest player to homer in a 1-0 game since 1935, when the Cubs’ Phil Cavarretta did it at age 19 in a game at St. Louis.

The 20-year-old Acuna hit .320 (16-for-50) with five doubles, three homers, three walks, 10 strikeouts and a .358 OBP and .600 slugging percentage in his first 12 major league games before Wednesday.

The Braves signed Acuna for a relatively paltry $100,000 in July 2014, a year after they signed Albies for $350,000.

Asked what Braves officials thought of Acuna when they signed him, Manno said, “Just a young player with really good ability, just raw tools. And that’s really a credit to Johnny and his staff because they really uncovered him and pursued it. And Johnny certainly developed quite a track record in his time there.”

Manno said Albies was “always mature behind his years, from the first day he showed up. Great work ethic, just an exciting player with a lot of quick-twitch (muscles) and athleticism and strength. And he just goes about it every day the right way. He did that in the minor leagues, he had a good approach and work ethic and everything.

“And he has fun, he has fun playing. Which always stood out. His ability on the field was one thing, but the way he played the game and how he played it always stood out.”

Wren and Manno were fired Sept. 22, 2014, when the Braves were in the throes of a late-season collapse that kept them out of the postseason for the fourth time in Wren’s seven years as GM. The disappointment of big-money contracts given to Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton was still fresh.

Wren had drawn praise for signing young, emerging Braves standouts to long-term deals, including Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran, and their decision not to sign Jason Heyward to a long-term deal akin to Freeman’s also looked wise as years passed.

But the team’s disappointment on the field in 2014, plus a series of questionable high-profile contracts – Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami were others – plus the defection of some valued employees due to personality clashes between Wren, Manno and some others in the organization, led to the decision to revamp the front office.

Almarez and others in international scouting also were fired, with Almarez hired the following summer by the Phillies as director of amateur scouting.

Wren was hired by the Red Sox in September 2015 as senior vice president of baseball operations.

“We had a young club back in ’14,” Manno said. “I think we had the second-youngest club in the National League at the time, when we signed our core players to long-term deals. We still had a young club. And we knew that we were going to be doing some things with some of the guys, but we also knew that there was a young core in place, and we had kids coming. So the future looked pretty bright.”

The Braves replaced Wren with president of baseball operations John Hart and assistant general manager John Coppolella, who served as de facto GM for a year before getting the actual title.

Coppolella was fired last October, the day after the season ended, amid the biggest scandal involving the Braves since the team moved to Atlanta. A Major League Baseball investigation into rule-breaking, most of it on the international free-agent market, led to the loss of 13 prospects who were declared free agents and other penalties restricting the team’s international free-agent activities for several more years.

Hart was also stripped of power and pushed out the door.

The Braves hired respected former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos away from the Dodgers in November and were 20-14 before Wednesday and in first place in the National League East, after three seasons of at least 90 losses during a massive rebuilding project begun shortly after Hart and Coppolella took over and began trading away veterans and high salaries for young talent, draft picks and international signing-bonus pool space to sign young free agents.