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Eager Acuna 5 days early to camp

Braves sign catcher Stewart to one-year deal; Blair slimmer after revamped conditioning program
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Highly touted prospect Ronald Acuna made another good impression on Braves management as he arrived at Spring Training on Wednesday, five days before the team's position players are required to report to camp.

"We know Spring Training is long, but the fact that guys take ownership of their careers and want to show up early, get the work in and be around [teammates and coaches], it's certainly a good thing," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "You love to see it across the board. For someone like [Acuna] to want to do that speaks volumes about him."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Highly touted prospect Ronald Acuna made another good impression on Braves management as he arrived at Spring Training on Wednesday, five days before the team's position players are required to report to camp.

"We know Spring Training is long, but the fact that guys take ownership of their careers and want to show up early, get the work in and be around [teammates and coaches], it's certainly a good thing," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "You love to see it across the board. For someone like [Acuna] to want to do that speaks volumes about him."

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Having been ranked MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect and knowing there's a strong possibility he could make his Major League debut early this season, Acuna certainly had reason to make an early arrival to his first big league camp. He at least got a taste of the environment as he was called over from Minor League camp to play in some Grapefruit League games last year.

Video: Ronald Acuna on his expectations for 2018 season

The Braves will likely not jeopardize the year of control that would be sacrificed if Acuna were to be placed on this year's Opening Day roster and never sent back to the Minors over the next six seasons. Thus, the expectation is they will wait until at least late April to promote the five-tool outfielder, who stands as Atlanta's most talented prospect since Andruw Jones.

Braves manager Brian Snitker has been looking forward to the chance to work with Acuna and the other talented young players in camp this year. Seven of the Braves' eight representatives on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list will be in big league camp. They include Acuna, righties Kyle Wright and Mike Soroka, lefties Luiz Gohara, Max Fried and Kolby Allard and third baseman Austin Riley.

"I knew a year ago, sitting here, that this was going to be a fun year and a fun camp," Snitker said. "A lot of those young players we have here are very talented with a good skill set."

Video: Anthopoulos discusses Braves inking catcher Stewart

Catching depth added

When the Braves were unsuccessful with their attempts to get Chris Stewart to sign a Minor League deal, they relented and provided the veteran catcher a one-year, non-guaranteed $575,000 contract on Wednesday.

Anthopoulos said Stewart was signed to provide some insurance and depth during Spring Training. The club still seems to be planning to use Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki as the primary catchers this season.

But Stewart's presence also seems to give the Braves some flexibility in the event that they receive an attractive trade offer for either Flowers or Suzuki, who are both entering the final year of their respective contracts.

"You always need depth," Anthopoulos said. "We'll see how he looks, and we'll obviously have to make a decision at the end of camp. I want to be clear that it doesn't change anything with Flowers and Suzuki. This is a depth move and insurance move. We like that he can frame and receive. He has good makeup, which is good, especially with all these arms in camp."

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Stewart provided some offensive value in Pittsburgh from 2014-15, but he has hit .197 and produced a .524 OPS while totaling 257 plate appearances for the Pirates over the past two seasons.

Because Stewart agreed to a non-guaranteed contract, the Braves could release him before the end of Spring Training and be responsible for just a portion of the $575,000 salary. There is a chance the 35-year-old catcher could start the season with Triple-A Gwinnett. But if there is not a spot for him on Atlanta's roster, he might just use these next six weeks as an opportunity to audition for other clubs.

Hard work pays off

Spring Training provides an opportunity for the social media world to poke fun at the multitude of players who report to camp and describe themselves as being in "the best shape of my life." But there's no reason to doubt Aaron Blair has every right to make this claim, as he is 38 pounds lighter than last year.

Once considered a top pitching prospect, Blair has consistently dealt with disappointments over the past two seasons. He began to make changes midway through last season, when he essentially added to the amount of time devoted to his conditioning program.

After completing interval sprint exercises, Blair would spend an additional 15-20 minutes either using the elliptical machine, riding a bike or jumping rope. He then was motivated by the opportunity to work out with Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz on a near-daily basis this past winter at SunTrust Park.

"I just want to get better," Blair said. "Even last year at Triple-A, I didn't have a good season. The last year-and-a-half or two years has been a challenge. I just have to go back out, throw strikes and have fun, compete every day and try to win a job."

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

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna