I’ve seen Ronald Acuna play. He’s very, very impressive. He’ll be an Atlanta Brave soon. But not, I’m guessing, before 2018.
There’s really no point in a September summons for the Braves’ newly minted No. 1 prospect. He started the season in high Single-A. He’s now in Gwinnett, which is Triple-A. Andruw Jones did the four-levels-in-one-year thing in 1996, and he was 19, same as Acuna.
Here’s the difference. The ’96 Braves were trying to win a second consecutive World Series without the injured David Justice, whose home run in Game 6 had delivered the first title. They needed Andruw Jones, who delivered. (Home run in Game 7 of the NLCS, two in Game 1 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium, the second of which landed near the famed Monument Park.)
The 2017 Braves will not reach the World Series. They’ll do well to win 75 games. Their need for Ronald Acuna will come over the next decade, not the next six weeks. He’s 19. This season has taken him from Kissimmee, Fla., home of the Fire Frogs, to Pearl, Miss., to Lawrenceville. He’ll get to Cobb County soon enough, maybe by opening day in 2018.
Figure either Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis gets traded over the winter. When that happens, it will be to clear a spot for Acuna. There’s a chance the Braves will delay his entry a bit to keep from starting the MLB service-time clock and not render him a Super Two, arbitration-wise, but I’m betting they won’t. You’ll recall that he 2010 Braves didn’t wait for Jason Heyward, who did something notable on opening day.
Might as well say it: Acuna is the biggest talent the Braves have developed since Heyward, who was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Acuna is a legitimate five-tool guy, of which there are few, and his numbers this season have been off the hook. His OPS as a Fire Frog was .814; it was .895 at Double-A Mississippi; it’s 1.0006 at Gwinnett. The higher he has climbed, the better he has hit.
He has played in 125 games and made 553 plate appearances in 2017. Gwinnett’s regular season ends Labor Day, by which time Acuna should be around 140 games and 600 PAs. That’ll do. This summer has seen him ascend from Intriguing Prospect to Next Big Thing. There’s no percentage in bringing him up to take a few at-bats for a team playing out the string.
Let big-league opponents wait until April to start compiling their scouting reports on how to pitch to Acuna, though it’s clear nothing any minor-league entry on three different levels has worked. If you haven’t seen him yet, I’m sorry. (Still time to make the trek to Coolray Field, though.) But this prediction I’ll make: When you do see him, you’ll go, “Wow.”