Atlanta Braves fans and the rest of the baseball world knew how things would likely play out regarding superstar prospect Ronald Acuna, Jr., but that still doesn’t make things any easier with the 2018 season set to open Thursday.
Acuna, Jr., considered the number one or number two prospect according to whichever ranking publication you favor, walked into Spring Training this season with a legitimate shot at becoming the Braves’ everyday left-fielder. The only question was would he break camp with the team as part of the initial 25-man squad, or would he have to wait a couple of weeks due to a contractual issue.
Much to the annoyance of fans in Braves Country, the latter happened.
The 20-year-old phenom from Venezuela, who was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year and Arizona Fall League MVP in 2017, did all he could do this spring to make the team; he led the club in homers (4), RBIs (11), and slashed a hefty .432/.519/.727 to make management’s decision all the more difficult. The Braves’ brass opted to send the young slugger down to Triple-A Gwinnett to start the year in an attempt to secure an extra year of contractual control by manipulating MLB’s service time rules. Had Acuna started the year in Atlanta, he would be eligible for free agency a year earlier than if the club waits until after April 13 to call him up.
While unjust given that he was the best, most dangerous hitter on the team during spring, I’m sure fans will appreciate the extra year of Acuna’s services when it rolls around closer to his prime.
Patience is a virtue…so they say.
It stinks at the moment because of all the excitement the young slugger has created, but it could provide for more memorable moments in a Braves uniform in the long run. It’s fair to predict that a full season of 26-year-old Acuna in 2024 will produce more for the team than the 13 games he’ll miss to begin 2018.
The Braves seem to be committed to handing over the everyday left field job to Acuna as soon as April 14, which will pair him with All-Star Gold Glovers Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis in the SunTrust Park outfield, a possibility that presented itself after the club shipped Matt Kemp and his millions back to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an offsetting salary dump earlier this winter.
Some fans have played devil’s advocate and presented the question of “how will the Braves feel if they just miss a playoff spot this year”?
First off, I am probably one of the few that think the club CAN contend for a wildcard spot if they young pitching comes around this season. That being said, it is very likely that Acuna would have been a deciding factor in games during the first two weeks of the season, but there’s no guarantee.
In 2010, the Braves decided to break camp with then highly touted prospect Jason Heyward and not manipulate the rules regarding his service time. J-Hey hit a memorable bomb of a homer in his first major league at-bat, the place went nuts, and the team won the wildcard that year by ONE game. Would they still have made the playoffs had Heyward not been on the team the first couple of weeks? Who knows. It is however enough to make eager Braves fans question the move with Acuna.
Rumors circulated over the weekend that Acuna had turned down a $30M contract offered by new GM Alex Anthopoulos that would have locked him up long-term buying out is pre-arbitration and arbitration years, but Acuna himself shot down those claims in an interview Tuesday evening, March 27.
Regardless of when he arrives in Atlanta, Acuna is primed to continue to be the talk of the town, and will probably garner a number of NL Rookie of the Year votes at season’s end.