WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ronald Acuna Jr. spent last year proving he is as physically gifted as any of baseball's top prospects. Now as he progresses through his first big league camp, the Braves are getting a feel for how the 20-year-old phenom might deal with the hype and
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ronald Acuna Jr. spent last year proving he is as physically gifted as any of baseball's top prospects. Now as he progresses through his first big league camp, the Braves are getting a feel for how the 20-year-old phenom might deal with the hype and added pressure that he'll face once he reaches the Major League level.
"I think he has handled himself remarkably well, just watching him go about his business" Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I think this kid has so much confidence in his abilities. He's going to see pitches he's never seen before as he progresses. He lived [with the attention] last year and during the winter. I think he probably couldn't wait to get down here and start playing."
Provided the opportunity to make his Grapefruit League season debut during Saturdays' 6-1 loss to the Astros at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Acuna certainly was deterred by the fact he struck out twice and went hitless in three at-bats.
"Everything felt the same," Acuna said. "My focus was to go out there and give it my all and give my best effort. The results weren't there, but tomorrow is another day. I'll get after it again."
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Acuna displayed some athleticism as he snared Tony Kemp's long drive near the warning track to end the second inning. But the most impressive thing he might have done was choose to remain in the dugout to watch the remainder of the game after being removed once he concluded his last scheduled plate appearance in the sixth inning.
Most players return to the clubhouse after being removed from a game. But without any prompting from his coaches, Acuna chose to soak in some more knowledge by staying in the dugout.
"He's an impressive kid," Snitker said. "There's a lot to like about him."
Acuna got a taste of the Grapefruit League when he was called over from Minor League camp to serve as an extra roster player in 13 games last year. But this marked the first time he played in a big league setting while being widely recognized as one of the game's top young players. He ranks No. 2 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.
Situated in the third spot of the lineup, Acuna took two healthy cuts as he fouled the first two pitches he saw from Collin McHugh in the first inning. He swung and missed on the third offering from the Astros right-hander, and then he fouled a few more pitches before producing a weak grounder to the right side against David Paulino in the fourth.
Acuna proved to be more patient as he got ahead of left-hander Framber Valdez with a 2-0 count in the sixth inning. But after looking at a pair of strikes, he swung and missed on a fastball to conclude his debut.
"I think he has a lot of expectations riding on him, and I think coming into this year, he's trying a little too much, but he'll settle in and just trust his skill because it's through the roof," Braves pitching prospect Mike Soroka said. "He's got more skill than anybody I've ever seen play or played with. I think he wanted to do some damage right away. I don't think you can blame him for that. He's an aggressive hitter and more often than not, once he gets his rhythm, those swings and misses will turn into scorched baseballs."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.