Acuña Leads Peoria To Arizona Fall League Championship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Peoria outfielder Ronald Acuña led the Arizona Fall League with seven home runs, posted an outstanding .325/.414/.639 slash line, and received the Joe Black MVP Award prior to the AFL championship game on Saturday. All for a player who is just 19 years old.

So what else could the Braves’ top prospect and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year do to top his outstanding AFL season? How about going 2-for-4 and driving in four runs in the championship game to lead the Javelinas to an 8-2 victory over the Mesa. Acuna was certainly the biggest star of the game, which was played at Scottsdale Stadium in front of 3,255 fans.

Peoria was heavily favored entering the championship game after capturing the West division with an 18-12 record. The Javelinas roster unquestionably contained the AFL’s best collection of prospects and that strength showed in the win over East division champion Mesa.

With that impressive array of players at his disposal, Peoria manager Luis Salazar (Braves) didn’t have to come up with an elaborate game plan for his squad.

“I didn’t have any strategy for these guys,” Salazar said. “They came here to play, to enjoy themselves and to have a great time. The main thing is that I gave the guys the confidence …. I never lost confidence in them even when we were down two runs.”

Mesa got their only lead of the game in the top half of the first inning, jumping on Peoria starter T.J. Zeuch (Blue Jays) for two early runs when Mesa’s first three hitters—Victor Robles (Nationals), Jaycob Brugman (Athletics) and Sheldon Neuse (Athletics)—all singled, followed by a sacrifice fly from Kody Eaves (Tigers). But a nifty double play started by Peoria shortstop Luis Urias (Padres) snuffed the rally.

Zeuch settled down after that first inning, using his four-pitch mix and 93-94 mph sinking fastball to blank the Solar Sox hitters through the rest of his 5.2 innings.

Zeuch’s pitches were a bit flat and he elevated his four-seam fastball up in the zone in the first inning, which got him into the early trouble.

“He made a lot of mistakes and he paid for it,” Salazar said. “(After the first inning) he moved the ball around and kept the ball down.”

After Peoria got on the board in the bottom of the second inning on a Urias sacrifice fly, it was time for Acuña to go to work. His line-drive single to center tied the game in the bottom of the third and a bases-loaded single in the fourth knocked in a pair of runs to boost the Javelinas’ lead to 6-2.

Salazar, who managed Acuna at Double-A Mississippi this year, was used to seeing Acuña come through in clutch situations.

“You don’t see a young hitter like Acuna very often,” Salazar said. “He’s going to hit … in a clutch situation, I have 100 percent confidence in this guy.”

Peoria added two more insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth on back-to-back triples by Jonathan Davis (Blue Jays) and Michael Chavis (Red Sox), followed by a sacrifice fly from Acuña.

Zeuch earned the win, with the loss going to Mesa starter Alec Mills (Cubs). Another key to the Peoria win was the outstanding work of relievers Andrew Case (Blue Jays), Andres Muñoz (Padres) and Art Warren (Mariners), who held the Solar Sox hitless over the last 3.1 innings.

Warren’s performance capped an outstanding AFL season in which the 24-year-old righthander didn’t give up a run over 11.1 innings.

There was plenty of talent on the field for the AFL’s final game, but on this day it was  Acuña’s world.

“The best thing that can happen to any player, either minor league or big league, is to win the championship,” Acuña said. “That’s what we were looking for in the beginning. We competed, and we got the championship.”

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