These next few days could be exciting for the Braves. But the return of Acuña could also mean top prospect Cristian Pache will be optioned back to the team’s alternate training site, which is Triple-A Gwinnett’s Coolray Field.
Acuña took another step toward being activated when he took batting practice on the field before Sunday night’s series finale against the Phillies.
“Whenever they tell me, ‘We’ve activated him,’ we’ll put him in there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Acuña felt good when he was cleared to begin taking swings again on Saturday. The 22-year-old outfielder has been sidelined since Aug. 11 with left wrist inflammation, which he believes resulted from diving into a base.
Asked why Pache hasn’t been back in the lineup since debuting as the starting left fielder in Friday night’s win over the Phillies, Snitker provided a response that protected both Ender Inciarte and Pache.
"I'm just looking for offense,” Snitker said. “You’ve got a guy like Matt Adams sitting [at designated hitter]. That’s the basic reason. [Pache] is up here to help out late in the game defensively until Ronald gets back."
Before getting into why Acuña might be activated from the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, it's worth pointing out that Snitker is well aware of the offensive struggles of Inciarte, who entered Sunday ranked last among National League outfielders (minimum 70 plate appearances) with 47 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a park-netural metric where league average is 100.
Pache would seemingly fare just as well offensively, and Andruw Jones described him as the team’s best defensive outfielder even before Inciarte started to show some recent signs of decline in the field.
But the Braves also have to protect the development of Pache, who seemingly needed at least a few more months at Triple-A this year. They were not planning to promote the 21-year-old outfielder until Nick Markakis informed the team late Tuesday afternoon that he had potentially been exposed to COVID-19.
Pache got the call because he was the only available position player on the 40-man roster who was not a catcher. He will likely be optioned when Acuña or Markakis returns this week. But the young outfielder recorded his first hit on Friday and nearly ended Saturday night’s win with the throw he made after catching Bryce Harper’s game-tying sacrifice fly in left field.
“I didn’t think he’d have a chance at all on that throw,” Snitker said. “Then he let it loose and it was kind of gaining on the runner.”
Snitker was not ready to announce Tuesday night’s starter, but he said the progression of Sunday night’s game would have no influence on the decision. This served as yet another clue the team is planning to give the start to Anderson, a 22-year-old right-hander who ranks as MLB Pipeline’s No. 42 prospect and the No. 3 prospect in the Braves’ system.
Anderson would be on regular rest after making his last start at the alternate training site on Thursday. The Braves opened a few rotation spots recently by optioning Kyle Wright and moving Touki Toussaint to the bullpen.