It took just 17 games at Triple-A in 2018 for Ronald Acuña Jr. to show the Braves he’s ready for the big leagues. The team finally made the move everyone’s been expecting and promoted Acuña to the majors.
The move was reported Tuesday night, first by Venezuelan reporter Daniel Álvarez Montes and later confirmed by Mark Bowman of MLB.com. Acuña will likely make his debut Wednesday against the Reds, who will have lefty Brandon Finnegan on the mound.
The 20-year-old Acuña struggled in his brief taste of the minors in 2018, hitting just .232/.321/.304. In 2017, though, the outfielder tore up the level, hitting .344/.393/.548 over 243 plate appearances.
The Braves probably aren’t too worried about Acuña’s struggles this season. After a meteoric rise through the system in 2017, Acuña mashed during spring training, hitting .432 over 16 games.
After his spring performance, many felt Acuña was one of the best 25 players in the Braves’ organization. But the team sent him down in order to manipulate his service time. In order to gain an extra year of control on Acuña, the Braves had to keep him in the minors until April 13. Once that date passed, it was only a matter of time before the team made the move.
Acuña is considered the consensus top overall prospect in the minors. Scouts don’t see any major weaknesses in Acuña’s game. Baseball America rated all five of his tools at least a 60 on the 20-80 baseball scale. That means Acuña rates better than above-average in all five major scouting categories: Hit, power, fielding, speed and arm.
As an overall prospect, Acuña received a 70 from Baseball America. By their scale, that means they anticipate him to be a perennial All-Star. The examples they give for 70-grade players include Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts. They expect Acuña to provide similar value down the road.
That doesn’t mean Acuña will come up to the majors and dominate immediately. Plenty of excellent prospects have struggled upon their first taste of the majors. A 19-year-old Mike Trout hit just .220 in 40 games in 2011 before coming back in 2012 and turning into a superstar.
The Braves don’t need Acuña to be their savior right now. With the team’s offense humming early, there’s not as much pressure on Acuña to deliver immediately. The team also didn’t enter 2018 with huge expectations. If they can keep playing well, great. But if they drop off and Acuña gets experience, that’s helpful too.
The move also opens the door for other top prospects to finally get called up to the majors. The New York Yankees already brought up shortstop Gleyber Torres, but Cincinnati Reds third baseman Nick Senzel still remains in the minors. There’s also Texas Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun and Chicago White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech and outfielder Eloy Jimenez. Barring injuries, all of those players are expected to play in the majors in 2018.
Acuña is projected to have a higher ceiling than all of them. The Braves’ young core has already taken some impressive steps forward in 2018. Now, the guy everyone expects to be at the center of the next dominant Braves team will get his chance to join that group.
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