And now we’re down to one, and as promised way back when this series started in October, the number one prospect in the Braves organization is Ronald Acuña. I hope you have enjoyed checking in with this series.
1. Ronald Acuña, OF
Age: 20 | Bats: R
.325/.374/.522 | 155 wRC+ | 21 HR | 44 SB | 7.0% BB | 23.5% K
Current Assignment: Class AAA Gwinnett
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2014
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 1
Superlatives: Atlanta Braves Organizational Player of the Year, OFR Position Player of the Year, Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, MLB Pipeline Hitter of the Year, Baseball America’s #1 Prospect of the Southern League, Baseball America’s #1 Prospect of the International League, Southern League All-Star, Arizona Fall League All-Star, Arizona Fall League MVP
History: Acuña is the son of former Mets farmhand Ron Acuña who brought his son to the attention of Braves Venezuelan scout Rolando Petit. Petit signed the younger Acuña for a $100,000 bonus in 2014. The Braves brought him straight to the Gulf Coast League for 2015, and six weeks into his first pro season, Acuña was promoted to Danville. Acuña put up a combined .269/.380/.438 line between the two rookie league clubs and he started to get the attention of prospect pundits. Acuña was assigned to class A Rome in 2016, the fourth youngest player in A-ball. Acuña hit .300/.389/.391 through May 9, when a bad slide into second base tore ligaments in his thumb, knocking him out of play until late August. He returned just in time to boost Rome into the playoffs, hitting .342/.381/.553 in the final 10 games of the regular season and was a key contributor to Rome’s successful championship playoff run. That offseason, Acuña went to Australia to play for the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League, where he hit .375/.446/.556 in 20 games and was nicknamed “The Answer To Everything” by the club.
Assigned to the high-A Florida Fire Frogs to start 2017, Acuña struggled for the first two weeks of the season. Acuña would then go on a 10-game hitting streak, and hit in 13 of 17 games before getting promoted to AA Mississippi on May 9. The Southern League was no match for Acuña, who joined teammates Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard as three of only five teenagers to play in the league as teenagers in the last 10 years. Acuña batted .326/.374/.520 in 57 games despite struggling for a stretch in early June. Acuña was promoted one more time, to AAA Gwinnett on July 13. Again, the advanced competition didn’t phase him and he went .344/.393/.548 in the International League with 9 homers.
After the season, Acuña was selected to go to the Arizona Fall League. Acuña hit in 18 of 22 games, going .325/.414/.639, and led the league with 7 home runs. Acuña also led the loaded Peoria Javelinas – which included stand-out performances from fellow Braves prospects Austin Riley, Max Fried, and Alex Jackson – to the AFL championship. By this time the cat was out of the bag on Acuña, who is the odds-on favorite to be named the top prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline this spring.
Offense: Acuña is a true five-tool talent that also has good strikezone awareness and pitch recognition. Acuña has power to all fields, but isn’t afraid to go with a pitch as the situation requires. Amazingly, Acuña’s strikeout rate dropped with each level he advanced to, striking out at only a 19.8% clip in Gwinnett, a very low number for a player with his power numbers. Even in Rome, Acuña demonstrated advanced bat control, and he has very strong hands and wrists. Acuña does have somewhat of a weakness against heat high and away from, but even then by the end of the season he was doing a credible job of either laying off or lining those pitches the other way. Acuña’s other offensive weakness is as a basestealer; he was only 69% successful in 2017 and needs to learn how to read pitchers better.
Defense: Acuña is more than capable of playing any outfield position and uses his speed and smart route-running to get to more than his share of fly balls and line drives. Acuña can occasionally be over-aggressive, which can lead to some balls getting behind him as he goes for the highlight-reel catch. Acuña has a very strong arm and is more than capable of manning right field, though he does sometimes rush his throws which causes some accuracy issues.
What’s Next: Despite turning only 20 years old in six days from this publication, Acuña is ready for the challenge of major league baseball. The only things standing in his way that this point are the presences of veteran, expensive outfielders already on the major league roster and the possibility that the Braves may elect to keep him in the minors for some amount of time to start the 2018 season in order to control his service time levels. That said, Acuña right now would likely be only behind first baseman Freddie Freeman as the most valuable player in the Braves organization.