How will Braves replace Acuña? 'It's a day-to-day thing'

May 27th, 2024

ATLANTA -- The Braves have seen what a world without looks like before. It’s far from ideal, but also not a death sentence.

Three years ago, Acuña tore his ACL in his right knee and missed half of the 2021 season. The Braves acquired Jorge Soler mid-season to replace him, then went on to win the World Series with Soler capturing World Series MVP honors. Similarly, the Braves are now in the early stages of mapping out the fallout after Acuña suffered a left ACL tear Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Acuña will miss the rest of 2024.

“It was kind of the worst-case scenario,” manager Brian Snitker said before the Braves' first game post-Acuña, an 8-4 Memorial Day loss to the Nationals. “We’re going to give somebody a chance to do something special in his absence.”

Here is how the Braves move forward without the reigning NL MVP.

Who will replace Acuña in right field?

Snitker said the Braves’ outfield alignment Monday will be their everyday alignment moving forward: in left field, in center and in right. Harris is staying put -- but Duvall and Kelenic had been platooning in left. Now, both will be in the lineup every day, which means Kelenic getting regular at-bats against left-handed pitching. He went 0-for-2 on Monday against southpaw Mitchell Parker, who Duvall chased with a two-run homer in the seventh.

“Right now, it’s going to be pretty consistent,” Snitker said. “It’s what you see. That’s who we got.”

The Braves also recalled J.P. Martínez from Triple-A Gwinnett for depth, designating veteran infielder Joey Wendle for assignment in a corresponding move. Martínez, a 28-year-old rookie, will be the team’s fourth outfielder, Snitker said.

Who will hit leadoff?

That will be fluid, Snitker said. The Braves had Ozzie Albies in that spot Monday against Parker, who allowed only four hits besides Duvall's homer to thoroughly out-pitch Charlie Morton.

“It’s a day-to-day thing,” Snitker said. “I like [Albies] against the lefty, and I may stay with him [there]. I don’t know. We’ll see how everyone else is going and what it looks like on a daily basis.”

Of all the Braves regulars, Albies has the most experience at the top of the lineup, with 137 games in the leadoff spot. Kelenic (20 games) and Harris (four) also have a little. Either could be a possibility there going forward, but since Albies is a switch-hitter, it probably wouldn’t be because of a platoon situation.

What were their options?

The Braves’ farm system is low on outfield depth. Only four of their Top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline are outfielders, and only one -- Jesse Franklin V (No. 26) -- is above Single-A ball. Franklin is at Double-A Mississippi and is not a realistic option at this point.

The Braves do have outfielder Forrest Wall playing well at Triple-A Gwinnett. It’s plausible he could be brought up at some point in the near future. For now, the Braves are keeping Chadwick Tromp on the roster as the third catcher, which limits their ability to carry more than four outfielders. But teams rarely carry three catchers for long stretches.

What is the clubhouse reaction?

Snitker: “I feel worse for the kid than for us, that he has to go through this again. It felt like he was starting to get things turned around and going good. It was just kind of a freak thing that happened. I feel for him to have to go through that process again.”

3B Austin Riley: “There are few players in this league that are on a level that he is. It’s a joy to watch him every night. To see that happen, you feel for him. You feel for him because he’s such a talented player. I know he’s going to work his butt off to get back. But it’s definitely tough to replace Ronald.

C Sean Murphy: “I feel terrible for Ronald. Personally, this must be brutal for him. I know he loves to play every day. It’s not going to be easy on him. We have all the faith that Ronald is going to do what he needs to do to get back. But I’m sure he doesn’t feel too great today.”