ATLANTA -- Ronald Acuna will come to Spring Training with the hope of earning a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster. But the young outfielder seems to fully understand why the Braves might be wise to delay his much anticipated arrival to the big leagues by at least a couple weeks.
"I've talked to some people, and I think the debate is whether they should keep me [with Triple-A Gwinnett] for a couple weeks or a month or however that works, contractually, to benefit the team," Acuna said through an interpreter. "I've tried not to focus on any of that. My goal is just to compete for the roster spot and hopefully make the team."
Ranked No. 2 on the MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospects list, which was released Saturday night, Acuna spent this weekend interacting with fans and teammates as Chop Fest unfolded at SunTrust Park. The 20-year-old is a little more than two weeks away from participating in big league Spring Training for the first time. If Acuna were placed on Atlanta's Opening Day roster this year and never returned to the Minor League level, he would be eligible for free agency at the conclusion of the 2023 season. If the Braves delayed his arrival by a couple weeks or a month, they could control him through the end of '24.
When the Braves placed Jason Heyward on the 2010 Opening Day roster, they set him up to become a free agent after the '15 season. Had they delayed his arrival, they could have added another season of control. But there's certainly reason to think the latter decision might have prevented them from gaining the Wild Card spot, which they earned on the regular season's final day.
The Astros delayed George Springer's arrival in 2014 and the Cubs did it with Kristopher Bryant in '15, thereby ensuring an extra year of team control at the start of their career.
"Hopefully, he can be that guy and he's the next Aaron Judge, where he comes in and makes an impact right away," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "I've heard such amazing things about him. It's going to be good. Hopefully, he can push his way in a lot quicker [than currently expected]."
Acuna began last season with Class A Advanced Florida, then fast-tracked his way to Gwinnett for the season's final two months. He was recognized as MLB Pipeline's Hitter of the Year. His next challenge will be to live up to the lofty expectations that surround those who come to the Majors considered one of the game's top prospects.
MLB Pipeline tabbed Angels pitcher and outfielder Shohei Ohtani as its No. 1 prospect. Acuna had been named the game's top outfield prospect earlier in the week.
"To be ranked first or second, they both mean a lot to me," Acuna said. "I always thought I'd be a good prospect and be ranked highly, but I never thought it would be that high."