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.
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|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|