Braves Call Up Ronald Acuna, Baseball's Top Prospect
Ronald Acuna, the top prospect in baseball, is expected to join the Braves in Cincinnati before today's game.
The top prospect in baseball got off to a slow start this year with Triple-A Gwinnett, but he's gotten at least one hit in seven of his past eight games. During tha stretch Acuna was 11-for-33 (.333) with a double, a home run and three RBIs. Acuna hit .423/.500/.538 for the Braves in spring training, but was sent down to begin the season, which means Atlanta will retain his rights for an extra season before he hits free agency.
Acuna has the ability to hit for average and power. He also has excellent speed and project as a plus defender in either the corner outfield spots (where he'll currently play) or also in center field. He also has a right fielder's arm. The 20-year-old will become the youngest player in the big leagues.
We've written extensively about Acuna, but in preparation for Acuna Day, here are some of our best stories about Acuna from the past.
• Multiple coaches and scouts explained what made Acuna so promising, for our 2017 Minor League Player of the Year story.
• Our first mention of Acuna came in April 2015, a few months after he signed and before he had made his pro debut. Ben Badler's International Review of the Atlanta Braves noted that Acuna might skip the Dominican Summer League and come straight to the U.S. as an advanced international prospect.
• Acuna made three Braves Top 30 Prospect lists during his time in the minors. He ranked 26th on the Braves list after the 2015 season, where we wrote:
Ranked Atlanta Braves #26 prospect after the 2015 season
Signed out of Venezuela on July 2, 2014, for $100,000, Acuna opened eyes in his first taste of pro ball. The 17-year-old skipped the Dominican Summer League in 2015 and never looked overmatched in either the Rookie-level Gulf Coast or Appalachian leagues, where he ranked as the Nos. 11 and 14 prospect, respectively. Acuna impressed the Braves in minor league camp with his outstanding feel for the game, which convinced the organization to challenge him against older competition. He showed plus speed in center field and on the bases and should be a stolen-base threat at higher levels. He takes good routes to balls in the gaps and flashed well above-average arm strength with solid accuracy and carry on his throws. Acuna has quick hands and an aggressive swing but has advanced plate discipline. He barrels pitches consistently and showed excellent raw power that should generate solid extra-base production as his body matures. Acuna projects as more of a gap-to-gap hitter and profiles as a table-setter. He could push his way to low Class A Rome in 2016.
• He moved up to sixth on the Braves Top 30 and the 67th prospect in baseball after the 2016 season. Our scouting report that year said:
Ranked Atlanta Braves #6 prospect after the 2016 season
The Braves have been aggressive in challenging Acuna since he signed for a modest $100,000 in 2014. He performed well in his U.S. debut after bypassing the Dominican Summer League in 2015 and proceeded to get off to a fast start at low Class A Rome in 2016 before a broken thumb sidelined him from mid-May to mid-August. Despite the injury, Acuna displayed his electric tools in all phases of the game. He uses his plus speed to cover center field from gap to gap and has the arm strength to play any position in the garden. He reads balls well, takes good angles and shows impressive anticipation along with excellent first-step quickness. Acuna is aggressive at the plate but has above-average discipline for a teenager. While his body is still developing, he has plus raw power and barrels pitches consistently with his above-average bat speed. Those traits should allow him to hit for average at higher levels. He needs work on stealing bases more consistently but has the speed to make an impact on the basepaths. His shortened season at Rome notwithstanding, Acuna should open the 2017 campaign at high Class A Florida after making up for lost time in the winter Australian Baseball League. Though risky, Acuna has as high a ceiling as any Braves position player.
• And he ranked No. 1 on the Braves Top 30 (and in baseball) coming into this year, where we wrote:
Ranked Atlanta Braves #1 prospect after the 2017 season
Acuna's father Ron was a long-time Mets minor leaguer. But from an early age, the elder Acuna knew that his son would likely end up the better player. Ronald signed for $100,000, choosing the Braves over the Royals, and was advanced enough to begin his pro career in the U.S. in 2015. Acuna missed much of 2016 with of a thumb injury and began 2017 at high Class A Florida. The Braves were confident he was ready for an in-season promotion--and they were right. Acuna blitzed through Double-A Mississippi in just two months and was even better for Triple-A Gwinnett, earning Minor League Player of the Year honors. The Braves' experience with Andruw Jones, who similarly jumped three minor league levels in a POY season in 1996, influenced their decision to move Acuna aggressively. They quickly realized he thrived when challenged. Acuna has a wide range of strengths and few glaring weaknesses. Multiple scouts predicted multiple all-star appearances in his future. He's the rare prospect who actually carries future 60 (or better) grades on the 20-80 scale for all five tools. Acuna is a 70 runner with 70 defense who has a 60 arm and 60 hit tool. Many scouts project him to future 70 power. He already uses the whole field, and he went deep six times in 2017 to right or right-center field. Acuna used the opposite field more often as the season progressed. Not coincidentally he became tougher to strike out. Scouts looking for flaws noted that his strong arm is sometimes inaccurate and he could sometimes be stymied by quality fastballs up and in. But he already shows an ability to lay off breaking balls and velocity out of the zone. When he gets a pitch to hit, Acuna has extremely fast hands with strong wrists that whip the bat through the zone with excellent bat speed. He already generates exceptional exit velocities, which should pay off with 25-30 home runs once he matures. Even though he has fewer than 1,000 minor league at-bats, Acuna is big league ready and will head to spring training expected to play a significant role in 2018. With Ender Inciarte in center field, his initial role will be left or right fielder. The track record for 20-year-old big leaguers is spotty, but Acuna's defense and plate discipline should help ease his transition.
• Along the way, Acuna also ranked as a top 20 prospect in the Gulf Coast, Appalachian, South Atlantic, Southern and International Leagues (he didn't play enough in the Florida State League to qualify for that league's list).
• Acuna edged out Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in a very close battle to be the No. 1 Prospect in baseball coming into the season.
2018 Prospect Graduation Grades
Re-grading the 10 best graduated MLB prospects from 2018, starting with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Shohei Ohtani.
• We discussed what makes Acuna an outstanding prospect on our Minor League Player of the Year podcast last fall.
• Acuna had a great season in the Australian Baseball League as a precursor of his breakout 2017 season.
• Acuna talked with Ben Badler at the 2017 Baseball America Prospect Pad.
• The Braves have had Acuna on a fast track for quite a while as this story coming into the 2016 season explains.