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Prized Braves prospect Acuna sits atop OF list

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- When Ronald Acuna was routinely called to big league camp to compete in Grapefruit League games last year, he was just a few months removed from his 19th birthday, and his most professional experience consisted of 40 regular-season games for Class A Rome during an injury-tarnished 2016 season.

"I told our player-development guys, if you don't want me to play him, don't send him over here --because if he's here, he's going to play," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

ATLANTA -- When Ronald Acuna was routinely called to big league camp to compete in Grapefruit League games last year, he was just a few months removed from his 19th birthday, and his most professional experience consisted of 40 regular-season games for Class A Rome during an injury-tarnished 2016 season.

"I told our player-development guys, if you don't want me to play him, don't send him over here --because if he's here, he's going to play," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Now, the only question is how soon Snitker might be given the opportunity to fill his regular-season lineup with Acuna, who could stand as MLB Pipeline's top overall prospect when the latest Top 100 prospects list is unveiled during a one-hour show that will begin Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Given the hype Acuna has generated over the past year, it certainly was not surprising to see him at the top of the list when MLB Pipeline unveiled its top 10 outfield prospects on Thursday. The 20-year-old Venezuelan began last season with Class A Advanced Florida, then steadily improved his production as he made his way up the ladder and ended up spending most of the final two months with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Sitting right behind Acuna on the list of the game's top 10 outfield prospects are Eloy Jimenez (White Sox), Victor Robles (Nationals), Shohei Ohtani (Angels), Kyle Tucker (Astros), Austin Hays (Orioles), Lewis Brinson (Brewers), Luis Robert (White Sox), Juan Soto (Nationals) and Alex Verdugo (Dodgers).

When Ohtani signed with the Angels in December, MLB Pipeline anointed him the game's top prospect. Robles ranked third. Jimenez ranked fifth and Acuna filled the sixth spot. Ohtani's overall value is enhanced by the fact he is also a pitcher.

But the order of this outfield list indicates that Acuna might enter the upcoming season as MLB Pipeline's top prospect.

Regarded as the best homegrown prospect the Braves have produced since Andruw Jones made his big league debut in 1996, Acuna was named MLB Pipeline's Hitter of the Year at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

Video: Anthopoulos on Acuna possibly playing in 2018

Acuna batted .325, tallied 21 home runs, recorded 44 stolen bases and compiled an .896 OPS over 612 plate appearances combined between Class A Advanced Florida, Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. Acuna improved his OPS at each level, and he proved himself as he hit .344 with a .940 OPS over 54 games with Gwinnett.

While Acuna might seemingly be ready to make the jump to the Majors, the Braves may choose to delay the start of his service clock to maximize the number of years he could be controlled by the organization.

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

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna