Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Atlanta Braves have the number 1 prospect in all of America. After decimating the minor leagues a season ago, Ronald Acuña is the name on every evaluators lips. Not only did he rise 3 levels this past season, he improved at every stop. Oh, and he just turned 20 a month ago. Already with an invite to Spring Training, seemingly the only question is WHEN Acuña breaks into the everyday lineup. No doubt Braves fans would love to see Acuña in the Opening Day lineup, but is this in the best interests of the Braves? Based on recent history, the answer would seem to be no.
Based purely on talent, there’s no question Acuña should slot in immediately. Unfortunately, baseball is also a business, and these things are so rarely based on pure talent. When dealing with prospects of this magnitude, teams almost always hold down these players for a time to gain an extra year of team control. Wil Myers, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, even the great Mike Trout. All were held down until the extra year of control could be gained. If you remember way back in 2015, uber stud Kris Bryant actually filed a grievance against Chicago alleging (correctly and obviously) that Chicago had held him down for three weeks in order to manipulate his service time. This is a common practice, and unfortunately for prospects the caliber of Acuna, it’s a practice that doesn’t look like it will be ending any time soon.
With Atlanta finishing 72-90 a season ago, it doesn’t make much sense for Atlanta to accelerate Acuna’s service clock. In fact, from purely a business point of view, it would make more sense to wait until June before calling Acuna up to avoid the super 2 deadline. Why rush a player the caliber of Acuña? Are the Braves a playoff team with an extra three weeks of Acuña ? Why not be patient and, if he succeeds like we all believe he will, extend our window another season? These are questions the front office should be asking themselves when it comes to service time. For fans, the question becomes less about cost, and more about the anticipation. We’ve been rebuilding for years, and most fans are not inherently patient. Luckily, the last time the Braves had the number 1 prospect in America, Jason Heyward found himself in the opening day lineup.
If Atlanta had put together an offseason like Chicago in 2015, I might see it differently. If you don’t remember, that’s the offseason where Chicago went and added Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel, and some guy named Jon Lester to the team. With Atlanta being relatively stationary up to this point, being patient seems the best course of action. Sure, you could add him right out of spring to make the fans happy, but fans are fickle creatures. Fans have short attention spans and large expectations. It can’t be overlooked that Acuña is only 20 years old. If he struggles out of the gate, if he doesn’t wow us immediately, fans will turn on a dime. What if he succeeds and you only finish 18 games back of Washington? All you’ll have done is cost yourself a year of cheap control for nothing.
Maybe Acuña solves this problem for Atlanta by struggling in spring training. Maybe he makes the decision for them and shows he needs more seasoning. It doesn’t really matter. Whether he smashes or struggles this spring, the correct approach is the patient approach. It’s been 4 years since we’ve been in the playoffs, June 3 isn’t so far away. If it means having a superstar of our own, the wait will be worth it.