Acuna: 'I'd like to stay in the leadoff spot'
Braves plan to be cautious with Swanson; Waters fulfills childhood dream at Spring Training
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Braves re-signed Nick Markakis in January, they began leaning toward putting Ender Inciarte in the leadoff spot and moving Ronald Acuña Jr. to the cleanup role. But manager Brian Snitker said Acuna may still get his wish to stay at the top of the lineup.
"There's a few different ways we could go that are all really good," Snitker said. "We're just going to wait to see where we're at in a couple weeks. All those things will play itself out. You've got to start somewhere with a lineup. Then you kind of adjust and adapt as it goes and as players go, kind of similar to last year.":: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
The question is whether it would be best to keep Acuna at the top of the lineup or move him into a run-producing spot while providing Inciarte a chance to prove he can once again produce at the top. After Inciarte struggled during last season's first half, the Braves saw Acuna flourish with his move to the leadoff spot. The National League Rookie of the Year Award winner hit .328 with 19 homers and a 1.042 OPS over 301 plate appearances when batting first.
Acuna's surge was also influenced by the mechanical adjustments he made just before the All-Star break. But there's something to be said about the fact he immediately took to this role, which would likely provide him at least 30 more plate appearances than he would draw as the cleanup hitter.
"If it was up to me personally, I'd like to stay in the leadoff spot, simply because I like hitting there," Acuna said. "But obviously those types of decisions are out of my control. The only thing I can control is to work hard and do my best."
Slated to once again fill the third spot, Freddie Freeman likes the thought of having both Acuna and Josh Donaldson hit in front of him during the first inning on a nightly basis. Offseason conversations with Ryan Howard have also led Freeman to wonder if a move to the cleanup role could be mentally detrimental to the 21-year-old Acuna.
But at the same time, Freeman understands the potential value of once again filling the leadoff spot with Inciarte, who capably handled the role while recording a 201-hit season in 2017. The Gold Glove center fielder hit .241 with a .312 OBP during last year's first half and .302 with a .345 OBP in the second half.
"If Ender is hitting like he was during last year's second half and in 2017, he's a perfect leadoff hitter," Freeman said.
The plan for Swanson
Dansby Swanson made an early arrival to Spring Training on Saturday and took advantage of the chance to take some swings in the indoor batting cage. Swanson has made steady progress since damaged cartilage was removed from his left wrist in November, but the Braves still plan to be cautious with him during the early part of Grapefruit League play.
"I think he's going to have plenty of time," Snitker said. "I think he feels good. We're just going to go through and check off all the boxes and go through the proper procedure before we push him. I think he'll be right on time."
All indications are the Braves' Opening Day lineup will once again include Swanson, who showed some offensive progress before his wrist began bothering him during a frigid April 14 game at Wrigley Field. The shortstop played through discomfort, but he aggravated the injury during the regular season's final week and was unavailable for the NL Division Series.
Dream comes true
Growing up in suburban Atlanta, Drew Waters remembers getting excited each year about the start of Braves Spring Training workouts. He even has faint memories of being 6 or 7 when his dad brought him to ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex to see Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones play.
Now, as the Braves' No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Waters is getting a taste of what it's like to be with the Braves as they prepare for the regular season. The 20-year-old outfielder earned a non-roster invite to attend what is his first big league Spring Training. He is just two years removed from helping Etowah High School win Georgia's Class 7A state championship in baseball.
"I tell kids all the time, 'You never know. We might be playing together 10 years from now,'" Waters said. "At one point in my life, I was their age watching guys and thinking, 'This is awesome. I wish I was a part of it.' Now, I am."