BRADENTON, Fla. -- He wears No. 82, a football number, usually assigned to a wide receiver. That's not a bad analogy for Braves rookie center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., regarded as the team's best prospect. He doesn't just run. He glides. He catches everything.And he impacts the game in every
BRADENTON, Fla. -- He wears No. 82, a football number, usually assigned to a wide receiver. That's not a bad analogy for Braves rookie center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., regarded as the team's best prospect. He doesn't just run. He glides. He catches everything.
And he impacts the game in every way imaginable.
Acuna was 2-for-2 -- raising his Grapefruit League-leading batting average to .433 -- with a double and a bloop single in the Braves' 15-1 victory against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon at LECOM Park.
Acuna reached base in all four of his at-bats. He was also hit by a pitch and walked (after a 10-pitch at-bat). After Acuna's walk, third baseman Johan Camargo lifted a sky-high double over the head of Pirates left fielder Jordan Luplow. At first, Acuna hesitated between first and second, thinking Luplow might make the catch. Once he didn't, Acuna turned on the jets and scored standing up.
Acuna has said it's his goal to make the Braves' Opening Day roster. It might be more likely for him to spend some time in Triple-A, where he batted .344 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 54 games last season. Either way, the Braves appear to have a gem.
"He has done exactly what everybody thought he would do coming in,'' Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
"He has caught my eye for the in-at-bat adjustments he has made. Defensively, he has made a couple of incredible catches in the gap. One was on the first batter of the game, and it was the kind of play that could save you a game or put you in a position where you're not having to catch up.
"He's the total package. He's going to be an exciting player for a lot of years.''
• Spring Training information
The Braves broke open the game with a pair of two-run homers, both coming when Pirates pitching was one strike away from escaping.
In the fourth, right fielder Dustin Peterson made it 3-0 with a tape-measure job out of the stadium, beyond the left-field stands, and Luplow didn't move. It bounced amid several cars and kept rolling on the cement -- and right into the waiting hands of a parking attendant. Peterson finished with four RBIs.
In the fifth, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson made it 5-0 with a two-run shot of his own.
On the road
It was a difficult turnaround -- going from Friday night's home game against the Yankees in Lake Buena Vista, then early-morning travels to Bradenton for Saturday afternoon's game -- but Snitker said, "It's what we do. It's what we signed up for.''
Snitker, the coaches, the staff and six players (five from the Minor League camp) pulled the double duty.
The Braves are faced with logistically challenging territory in Central Florida. With the Astros now in West Palm Beach, only the Tigers are somewhat nearby in Lakeland. Otherwise, road trips mean travels to Florida's West Coast or East Coast.
Things will be much easier beginning in 2020, when the Braves move their Spring Training home to North Port in Sarasota County.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
In an hour or less, the Braves will be able to reach five opponents along Florida's West Coast -- the Pirates (Bradenton), Orioles (Sarasota), Rays (Port Charlotte), Red Sox (Fort Myers) and Twins (Fort Myers). And it will be more of a straight shot to face the Phillies (Clearwater) and Blue Jays (Dunedin).
"That will be heaven,'' Snitker said. "You won't have a problem taking older players [on the road]. When they're done, they can just drive home.
"Sometimes, you have a dilemma. How do you get this done without killing your players? Even though they are young, it's challenging, especially with the regulations of who you are required to bring [to a spring road game]. Being on this coast will make it nice, and we'll go to some cool places that we haven't gotten to very often. It's mostly American League teams, too, so that's good. You don't want to play all these games against teams in your own division. As it is now, we've got some guys we're trying to keep away from the Phillies [the opponent in the regular-season opener].''
On the day after left-hander Luiz Gohara suffered a sprained left ankle during a fielding drill, Snitker had no new information but was mildly encouraged.
Friday, Gohara was in a walking boot. Saturday, he was on crutches and wearing a wrap on his ankle.
"It's a bad thing, but it's better than what it could've been,'' Snitker said. "You're thinking he might come in [Saturday morning] with a huge ankle, but it wasn't like that. It's good that it wasn't a high ankle sprain. It's his push-off foot -- I don't know if that's good or bad -- but it's maybe better than his landing foot.
"It's going to be a while. He's not going to be able to throw for two weeks or whatever, so that sets him back some more. It's like starting Spring Training all over again. You've got to go through the progression.''
Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. ET (live on MLB.TV), the Braves will give right-hander Matt Wisler (0-0, 0.00 ERA) his third start and fourth appearance of the spring as they face the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. The Braves also will use Peter Moylan, Jose Ramirez, Miguel Socolovich, Aaron Blair and Josh Graham (all right-handers) -- and position players Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte are all scheduled to play. Wisler will be opposed by left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Joey Johnston is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Braves on Saturday.