Minors Hits Champ Ronald Acuna Claims Baseball America’s Minor League Player Of Year Award

DURHAM, N.C.—Twenty-one years ago, Andruw Jones steamrolled from high Class A through Double-A and Triple-A and won his second Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Award before starring for the Braves in the 1996 World Series as a 19-year-old. Ronald Acuna won't have the World Series echo, but his similar, breakout season earned him the 2017 edition of BA's award, making him just the second Brave to win it since Jones doubled up in 1995-96.

Past winners include Hall of Famer Frank Thomas (1990), former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (1994) and two-time MVP Mike Trout (2011). The award will be presented to Acuna during BA's Awards Gala during the Winter Meetings in Orlando.

Signed out of Venezuela in 2014 for $100,000, Acuna played just 42 games in 2016, but his tools were evident. Aided by a strong winter-ball stint in Australia, he ranked No. 67 on BA's preseason Top 100 Prospects list. His breakout season exceeded anyone's expectations, however.

After starting the year with Atlanta's new high Class A affiliate, the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna earned a promotion to Double-A Mississippi after just 28 games. Fifty-seven games later, he jumped to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he finished the season. He led the minor leagues with 181 hits en route to a .325/.374/.522 season. His power-speed combination dazzled scouts as he slugged 21 home runs, as well as 31 doubles and eight triples, while stealing 44 bases in 64 attempts.

Acuna led all Braves farmhands in batting, homers, RBIs (82) and steals in a season that compares to but doesn't match that of Jones in 1996, when Jones hit a cumulative .339/.421/.652 with 34 homers and 30 steals. The last Braves farmhand to win the Minor League POY award was also an outfielder, Jason Heyward, in 2009.

"I had an opportunity with (Ken Griffey) Jr., with Alex (Rodriguez), and now Acuna," Gwinnett hitting coach John Moses, who played and coached with Griffey and Rodriguez in the Mariners system, said. "I mean, you can throw him into that lot of guys, for me, at 19 years old. He's only going to get better. The guys are special when they come around like this."

Other finalists for BA's award, which has been given annually since 1981, included Blue Jays farmhands Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Diamondbacks righthander Jon Duplantier and Orioles outfielder Austin Hays. Acuna is the second consecutive international signee to win the Minor League Player of the Year award, following Cuba's Yoan Moncada, now with the White Sox, last season.

Baseball America is a full-service media company with in-depth coverage of every level of baseball, from high school and college to the minors all the way to the major leagues. Baseball America magazine is published 24 times a year, and BaseballAmerica.com features BA’s signature content updated daily. Baseball America also publishes several annual reference books including the Prospect Handbook, the definitive resource on up and coming professional talent.

MINOR LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1981 • Mike Marshall, 1B, Dodgers
1982 • Ron Kittle, OF, White Sox
1983 • Dwight Gooden, RHP, Mets
1984 • Mike Bielecki, RHP, Pirates
1985 • Jose Canseco, OF, Athletics
1986 • Gregg Jefferies, SS, Mets
1987 • Gregg Jefferies, SS, Mets
1988 • Tom Gordon, RHP, Royals
1989 • Sandy Alomar, C, Padres
1990 • Frank Thomas, 1B, White Sox
1991 • Derek Bell, OF, Blue Jays
1992 • Tim Salmon, OF, Angels
1993 • Manny Ramirez, OF, Indians
1994 • Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
1995 • Andruw Jones, OF, Braves
1996 • Andruw Jones, OF, Braves
1997 • Paul Konerko, 1B, Dodgers
1998 • Eric Chavez, 3B, Athletics
1999 • Rick Ankiel, LHP, Cardinals
2000 • Jon Rauch, RHP, White Sox
2001 • Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins
2002 • Rocco Baldelli, OF, Devil Rays
2003 • Joe Mauer, C, Twins
2004 • Jeff Francis, LHP, Rockies
2005 • Delmon Young, OF, Devil Rays
2006 • Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals
2007 • Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
2008 • Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
2009 • Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
2010 • Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
2011 • Mike Trout, OF, Angels
2012 • Wil Myers, OF, Royals
2013 • Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
2014 • Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
2015 • Blake Snell, LHP, Rays
2016 • Yoan Moncada, 2B, Red Sox
2017 • Ronald Acuña, OF, Braves

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