ATLANTA—Ronald Acuna celebrated his 19th birthday doing exactly what he and the Braves hoped the center fielder would be doing in the Australian Baseball League, where he plays winter ball for Melbourne.
The multi-talented Venezuelan earned a spot in the ABL all-star game, which occurred four days after Acuna’s Dec. 18 birthday. Through 20 games, he led the circuit with 27 hits and tied for first with 13 stolen bases (in 16 attempts). His .375 batting average ranked third while his .446 on-base percentage was good for fourth.
His ABL stint ended in late December when Acuna returned to Venezuela to work out any visa issues in order to returning to the United States in time for spring training.
That showing comes on the heels of a 2016 campaign in which Acuna was limited to 40 games at low Class A Rome because of a broken thumb that sidelined him from mid-May to mid-August. A fast start in the South Atlantic League enabled him to finish with a .311/.387/.432 batting line with 14 steals.
Acuna’s production in 2016 has given him as much helium as any prospect in the organization. The Braves have aggressively challenged him since they signed him for $100,000 in 2014. That included having him bypass the Dominican Summer League in 2015.
Acuna’s defense has improved to the point where he is an above-average center fielder, and getting better. At the plate he demonstrates impressive discipline yet maintains an aggressive approach that allows him to drive the ball with his above-average bat speed. He also is becoming an intelligent baserunner with excellent first-step quickness and outstanding instincts in all phases of the game.
“I think with Ronald we’re seeing the combination of an increase in experience and physical maturity coming together to produce some impressive results,” general manager John Coppolella said.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt he has all the tools to develop into an impact player at higher levels in this game.”
• The Braves hired former Atlanta catcher Damon Berryhill as manager at Triple-A Gwinnett. He spent the past seven seasons managing in the Dodgers system and was the Pacific Coast League manager of the year in 2015 at Oklahoma City.
•Paul Runge will manage high Class A Florida, the organization’s new Florida State League affiliate. He spent the past six seasons as the Astros’ field coordinator after managing 14 seasons in the Braves system from 1994-2001 and 2005-10.