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Andruw helping Acuna balance fun, focus

Braves legend: 'Cocky is a good thing. But respecting the game is also very important'
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andruw Jones knows what it's like to be what some might consider to be a cocky young Major Leaguer, so the Braves legend has gladly accepted the chance to prepare Ronald Acuna for what Atlanta's top prospect might soon experience.

"You've got to be cocky to play this game," Jones said. "You've got to be confident in yourself to go out and show you belong there. You don't want to sit in the corner and put your head down every time. You want to stand out there and show you belong in that league at that time.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andruw Jones knows what it's like to be what some might consider to be a cocky young Major Leaguer, so the Braves legend has gladly accepted the chance to prepare Ronald Acuna for what Atlanta's top prospect might soon experience.

"You've got to be cocky to play this game," Jones said. "You've got to be confident in yourself to go out and show you belong there. You don't want to sit in the corner and put your head down every time. You want to stand out there and show you belong in that league at that time.

"Cocky is a good thing. But respecting the game is also very important."

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That's the message Jones has worked to deliver over the past couple weeks, which he's spent helping to assist and mold Acuna, the Braves' 20-year-old phenom. Acuna displayed his five-tool talents as he delivered an opposite-field single and scored from first base on Kurt Suzuki's second-inning double to the left-field corner in Monday's 2-1 win over the Nationals at Champion Stadium.

The single off Nationals right-hander Erick Fedde is the only hit Acuna has recorded through his first nine at-bats this year. Maybe this spring will prove different than last year's, when Acuna recorded five hits in his first seven Grapefruit League at-bats before tallying just three more hits over the 20 at-bats that followed.

Or maybe the results he produced as a roster extra in Spring Training games last year simply validated the reality that it takes time for even the greatest prospects to get used to consistently facing Major League-level talent.

Video: Ronald Acuna on his expectations for 2018 season

Braves fans surely deserve to be excited about the possibility of Acuna being promoted to the big leagues during the early portion of the upcoming season. But there are also legitimate reasons for the Braves to give their top prospect all the time he needs to prove he's ready to reach and then stick in the Majors.

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"We've still got almost a month left [before the regular season]," Jones said. "We'll see how well he develops and how good he feels at the plate and the decision the Braves are going to make. Defensively and hitting-wise, I think he can do it. This league is young. It's also a game of adjustments. If he keeps making his adjustments, he's going to be fine."

When Jones broke into the Majors at 19 years old in 1996, Marquis Grissom, Mark Lemke and Fred McGriff were among the many veterans within the Braves' clubhouse who helped keep him grounded. Still, like any young adult in almost any profession, the former Braves center fielder experienced some missteps that molded him long before he became a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner.

Jones benefitted from teachable moments, like when he was embarrassingly yanked off the field after lackadaisically pursuing a fly ball in 1998, and he wants to do whatever he can now to assist Acuna, who within the span of the past 12 months has gone from being a 19-year-old Class A Advanced player to a can't-miss phenom who ranks second on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.

Video: Bowman on all eyes being on Acuna at Braves camp

"Everybody is different," Jones said. "There's only going to be one Chipper Jones. There's only going to be one Willie Mays, and there's only going to be one Ken Griffey [Jr.]. You can compare [Acuna] to them based on the talents. But he's going to come up and be a man by himself."

There's little reason to doubt Acuna's elite potential. He's proven successful at each Minor League level, and he might be just a couple months from making his Major League debut.

At the same time, Acuna needs to focus on some of the finer points of the game, such as baserunning -- he was thrown out in 20 of his 64 stolen-base attempts last year -- and understanding how his actions might be interpreted by veteran teammates and opponents.

The Braves want Acuna to wear his hat straight and maintain a professional appearance while in uniform. But they do not want to change much about the fun-loving, flamboyant approach that has made him one of the game's most exciting young players.

"The main thing he needs to remember is keep your head straight and respect [your surroundings]," Jones said. "Be humble, but a humble-cocky."

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

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna