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Braves five-tool phenom Acuna sent down

MLB Pipeline's No. 2 prospect hit .432 with 4 homers in spring
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ronald Acuna Jr. breezed through three Minor League levels last year and established himself as baseball's top position-player prospect. The highly touted five-tool outfielder will now spend a little more time developing before making his much-anticipated arrival to the Braves' lineup.

After Monday's 6-0 win against the Blue Jays, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos informed Acuna he had been reassigned to Minor League camp. Even as the 20-year-old outfielder spent the past few weeks producing impressive statistics against Major Leaguers, it was assumed he would begin this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ronald Acuna Jr. breezed through three Minor League levels last year and established himself as baseball's top position-player prospect. The highly touted five-tool outfielder will now spend a little more time developing before making his much-anticipated arrival to the Braves' lineup.

After Monday's 6-0 win against the Blue Jays, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos informed Acuna he had been reassigned to Minor League camp. Even as the 20-year-old outfielder spent the past few weeks producing impressive statistics against Major Leaguers, it was assumed he would begin this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

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Now it remains to be seen whether Acuna will be brought to the Majors as soon as April 13, which stands as the earliest date the Braves could promote him and secure an extra year of contractual control.

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"We don't set time frames or anything like that," Anthopoulos said. "I know a lot gets made of that. Right now, it's just go down and play and get in a routine. He's obviously looked very good. We just want him to get into the flow, keep doing what he was doing and he'll find his way back here, hopefully very soon."

Acuna vaulted his way from Class A Advanced all the way up to the Triple-A level last season. He ranks as MLB Pipeline's second-best prospect, and he lived up to that billing as he hit .432 (19-for-44), drilled four homers and constructed a 1.247 OPS in Grapefruit League games this year.

Anthopoulos, who assumed his current role in November, indicated he likely wouldn't have pushed Acuna through the system as quickly as Atlanta's previous front-office regime did. Consequently, he thinks the young outfielder could benefit from the chance to get a little more experience at the Minor League level.

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"That's not to be critical of what was done," Anthopoulos said. "It's part of the decision-making. But from a philosophical standpoint, I probably wouldn't have jumped him that fast."

Anthopoulos said Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson told him that in retrospect, he understands the value he might have gained had the organization not rushed him from Double-A Mississippi to the Majors with six weeks left in the 2016 season. Swanson tasted initial success and then struggled to the point where he had to briefly return to the Minors last year. But with the Braves being more than just one player away from being a legit playoff contender, there was never logical reason to think they would sacrifice a full season of contractual control just to have Acuna through the first couple weeks of this upcoming season.

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If Acuna would have been placed on the Opening Day roster and remained at the Major League level throughout his career, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2022 season. By keeping him in the Minors until at least April 13, Atlanta can push his earliest entry into free agency to 2023.

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"You are going to get criticized in these jobs no matter what you do," Anthopoulos said. "We have to do what feels right and what's best for the player in the long run. That's what's going to carry the day."

Like the Braves' rotation would be better with the presence of highly regarded pitching prospect Mike Soroka, who was sent to Minor League camp, earlier this month, the Braves' lineup will be optimized with the presence of Acuna, who will serve as the team's left fielder when he arrives.

There is a strong possibility Acuna and Soroka will both be on Atlanta's roster at some point this season. But for now, they will simply have to extend the development process and wait for the Braves to deem the time is right for them to be at the Major League level.

"Our priority is what's best for Ronald Acuna's development?" Anthopoulos said. "What's best for Mike Soroka's development? Ultimately, we still have a responsibility to the Braves to put the best team out on the field. But the number-one priority is going to be the player development of each player, because we want them when they're up here to stay up here. We want them to have long, productive and healthy careers."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna Jr.