CINCINNATI -- Ronald Acuna Jr.'s power, speed and defensive skills have drawn praise as he has made a meteoric rise through the Braves' system over the past year and established himself as one of the game's top prospects.But before the heralded 20-year-old outfielder made his much-anticipated Major League debut --
CINCINNATI -- Ronald Acuna Jr.'s power, speed and defensive skills have drawn praise as he has made a meteoric rise through the Braves' system over the past year and established himself as one of the game's top prospects.
But before the heralded 20-year-old outfielder made his much-anticipated Major League debut -- in which he singled, flashed his blazing speed and scored the tying run in Wednesday night's 5-4 win over the Reds -- he might have most impressed with the mature response he provided when asked if he benefited from his longer-than-expected stint with Triple-A Gwinnett this year.
"It was an incredible experience," Acuna said through an interpreter. "I think that helped me develop a little bit during those couple weeks I was in the Minor Leagues. I'd say it definitely helped me develop more and be prepared more than I thought I would be leaving Spring Training."
Acuna certainly seemed prepared for the flurry of excitement that awaited after he entered Great American Ball Park around 1:45 p.m. ET, approximately 14 hours after his emotions were stirred by the revelation he was coming to the Majors. He put on a show during batting practice, created some excitement with his first two plate appearances and notched his first career hit with an eighth-inning single off Kevin Shackelford. Once he was on base, he raced from first to third on Dansby Swanson's single, reaching a speed of 30.3 feet per second, according to Statcast™. Twins center fielder Byron Buxton is the Major League leader with an average sprint speed of 30.5 feet per second.
"That's going to be another weapon we have as a team," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Having him out there is really going to be good. He's an elite defender. There's no fear at all on the basepaths. It's going to be a big plus for us."
Acuna's speed put him in position to score the game-tying run on Kurt Suzuki's single up the middle.
It was just one part of a momentous day.
"It's a dream come true," Acuna said. "I just thank God for this opportunity to be able to be here to log my first hit and play in my first big league game. It's been incredible."
Ranked as baseball's second-best prospect per MLB Pipeline, Acuna stands as the most complete prospect the Braves have produced since Andruw Jones debuted in 1996. He showed flashes of his power potential when he recorded two long flyouts during his first two plate appearances. He lined the first pitch he saw to the right-center-field warning track with a 100.8-mph exit velocity. He swung at the first pitch in the third inning and produced a 97.4-mph exit velocity on a lineout to right field.
Acuna struck out twice and went 1-for-5 during his debut, providing plenty of signs he is quite capable of generating excitement every time he comes to the plate.
"Nothing seemed to affect him," Snitker said. "He wasn't overwhelmed by anything. He just went out and played his game. He was on the attack there. He hit a couple of balls good and got his first hit. I thought he was just fine."
Acuna displayed his tremendous talent with a 1.246 OPS over 44 Grapefruit League at-bats. Still, regardless of how he fared during Spring Training, it was almost certain that he would not join Atlanta's roster until at least April 14, the first date the Braves could promote him without surrendering an extra year of control.
Acuna's arrival was further delayed by a slump during his first two weeks with Gwinnett. He started to round into form recently and ended up recording 11 hits in what he hopes were the final 33 at-bats of his Minor League career.
"To be honest, I never felt any pressure," Acuna said. "We all know baseball has its highs and lows. I never really put any extra pressure on myself."
A night earlier, when Snitker returned to his office following a 12-inning loss to the Reds, he didn't hesitate when general manager Alex Anthopoulos suggested it was time to bring Acuna to the Majors.
"We knew it was inevitable that, at some point, the kid was going to get up here," Snitker said. "It was like, 'When is the perfect time?' I don't know. Alex asked me what I thought and I said, 'I'm excited to get him in here and see what he can do.'"
Reunited with his best friend -- Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies -- Acuna didn't appear overwhelmed by his new environment. He has been aiming for this opportunity since late last season, and now looks forward to the chance to show why so many have longed to see him perform at the game's highest level.
"As soon as I hit the field, I felt at home," Acuna said.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.