NEW YORK -- Ever effervescent, Jose Reyes can recall the oddness of those nights when, as a teenage Minor Leaguer, he would return home to a silent house. When Ronald Acuna Sr. was playing well, things were normal enough. But when Acuna had a bad game, "he didn't talk to
NEW YORK -- Ever effervescent, Jose Reyes can recall the oddness of those nights when, as a teenage Minor Leaguer, he would return home to a silent house. When Ronald Acuna Sr. was playing well, things were normal enough. But when Acuna had a bad game, "he didn't talk to anyone the whole night."
"The house was quiet, bro. Quiet. Quiet," Reyes said, laughing as he told the story. "He didn't even say 'hi,' one word. He just went to his room and locked himself in."
It went like this for years. Shortly after Reyes signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 1999, he, Acuna and another top prospect, Enrique Cruz, began living together at various Minor League outposts -- from Port St. Lucie, Fla., to Columbia, S.C., then to Binghamton, N.Y. Between slumps, they talked enough to become close friends, keeping in touch even after Acuna played affiliated pro ball for the last time in 2006.
Nearly all of the abilities that had scouts drooling over the teenage Reyes also applied to Acuna, a center fielder. Speed. Power. Glove. Arm.
"He was a tools guy," said former Mets general manager Omar Minaya. "We had a whole bunch of guys in that mode, that toolbox kind of guy."
Yet while Reyes grew into one of the game's best prospects, Acuna stalled, spending significant time at each level as he moved up the Mets' Minor League ladder. Although Acuna hit over .300 for two straight seasons at Binghamton, he had reached his mid-20s at that point, flashing none of the in-game power that the Mets hoped he would possess. Over those two years, spanning 254 games, Acuna hit just three home runs.
"This was a kid that had every tool that you could imagine," said another former Mets GM, Jim Duquette, who was the team's farm director when Acuna debuted as a professional. "He just had a hard time putting it all together to be a Major League player. We considered him a five-tool player that we felt like over a period of time, if we gave him enough at-bats, he was going to put it together. He never quite did."
Nine years after Acuna last played in the Mets organization, his son, Ronald Jr., debuted at the lowest rungs of the Braves organization. Unable to leave Venezuela much as a child to watch his father play, the younger Acuna could only remember the latter part of his father's career, in the Blue Jays organization. But he was plenty familiar with his dad's old roommate, Reyes, whom he "looked up to and admired" as a big league superstar in his prime.
Knowing that, their mutual agent, Peter Greenberg, asked if Reyes would consider reaching out to Acuna shortly after he signed with the Braves.
"I said, 'Hell, yes,'" Reyes said. "I mean, I played with his dad for years, so we have a very good relationship. That's how everything started."
So it came to be that throughout Acuna Jr.'s Minor League career, Reyes called him and texted, offering what advice he could. This spring, Acuna Sr. went out of his way to visit Reyes in Port St. Lucie, catching up with his old friend -- now a mentor for his son, a blue-chip prospect who debuted last week.
Given the perspective of years, Acuna Sr. lifted his old silence, reflecting on the potential of his own career.
"That killed him," Reyes said. "And he knows. He understands now. He gives a lot of advice now not only to his son, but to a lot of kids in Venezuela."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.