LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Weighing the short- and long-term benefits, it seems quite obvious that the Braves will wait until the latter portion of April to bring Ronald Acuna Jr. to the Major League level. But that doesn't mean the elite prospect won't spend the next six weeks doing
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Weighing the short- and long-term benefits, it seems quite obvious that the Braves will wait until the latter portion of April to bring Ronald Acuna Jr. to the Major League level. But that doesn't mean the elite prospect won't spend the next six weeks doing whatever he can to further enhance the excitement regarding his eventual addition to Atlanta's roster.
"I want to make that decision as hard on them as possible," Acuna said through an interpreter. "If they decide to send me down to Triple-A, I want to make it a tough decision. I want to make it to the point where they really don't have much of a decision."
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Barring the provision of a long-term contract, which might not make sense for either party, it doesn't appear there really is much of a decision. If the Braves put Acuna on the Opening Day roster, and do not send him back to Minors within the next six seasons, the 20-year-old outfielder would be eligible to enter the free agent market after the 2023 season.
If the Braves opt to delay Acuna's arrival for a few weeks, they could secure another year of control of the five-tool phenom, who ranks second on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.
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The Cubs gained an extra year of control when they opted to wait until April 17 -- nine games into the 2015 season -- to bring Kristopher Bryant to the Majors. The Astros guaranteed the same with George Springer when they waited until April 16 -- 15 games into the 2014 season -- to bring him up from the Minors.
"[Acuna] just needs to go get it," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I don't know if any of us are 100 percent sure of what is going to happen. I think he just needs to go out and play, take every day as a single entity and do the best he can. We'll plug him into the program and see what happens."
Snitker was certainly impressed when he used Acuna as an extra during some Spring Training games last year. The outfielder was just 19 years old at the time, and a wrist injury had limited him to just 40 regular-season games at the Class A level the year before. But he showed great poise as he hit .296 (8-for-27) and produced an .832 OPS in 13 Grapefruit League games.
Now Acuna finds himself participating in his first big league Spring Training and dealing with the attention he has drawn over the last year. He began 2017 with Class A Advanced Florida, and ended it with Triple-A Gwinnett. His impressive production earned him the honor of being recognized as MLB Pipeline's Hitter of the Year.
"It really doesn't bother me at all and I actually feel pretty humbled and honored and grateful to receive this notoriety and attention," Acuna said. "All I can do is prepare mentally and physically, and go out there and do my best, and try to make the team."
Even with the success he had in Grapefruit League games last year, Acuna admits he never envisioned having the success he had last year, and finding himself in his current position, months away from making his much-anticipated Major League debut.
"To be honest, I was a little bit surprised, but I'm respectful of everything that happened and I'm glad everything has been going this way," Acuna said. "Yeah, it caught me a little bit off guard and I'm surprised."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.