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Acuna would prefer to stay at leadoff for Braves

Atlanta could shuffle pitching prospects in fifth rotation spot; Swanson, Soroka progressing in recovery
January 19, 2019

ATLANTA -- How the Braves construct their lineup will depend on who is acquired or selected to fill their outfield void. But Ronald Acuna Jr. admits his preference is to remain at the top of Atlanta's lineup."Obviously, I do enjoy batting leadoff, but it's not my decision," Acuna said through

ATLANTA -- How the Braves construct their lineup will depend on who is acquired or selected to fill their outfield void. But Ronald Acuna Jr. admits his preference is to remain at the top of Atlanta's lineup.
"Obviously, I do enjoy batting leadoff, but it's not my decision," Acuna said through an interpreter. "It's up to the coaches and manager to decide whatever is best for the team."
Acuna's rise toward capturing the National League Rookie of the Year Award began on July 20, when he moved to the leadoff spot and proceeded to hit .322 with 19 homers and a 1.028 OPS over the 68 games that followed. The 20-year-old phenom's second-half success served as one of the primary reasons Atlanta won the NL East.
As things currently stand, the Braves have the enviable option to begin their lineup with three MVP-caliber players -- Acuna, Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman. But the current roster lacks an obvious candidate for the cleanup spot.
While the Braves managed to win the division with Nick Markakis as their cleanup hitter last year, there's a desire to add an outfielder with more power potential. If the Braves don't make this addition, there's a chance they could move Ender Inciarte to the leadoff spot and move Acuna down to the fourth spot.
"I know they want a cleanup hitter," Freeman said. "But if that doesn't happen the way they think it will and Ender is doing well in Spring Training, you can move him back to leadoff. Ender is two years removed from 200 hits. If Ronald is ready to go in the four-hole, I say, why not?"
Fifth starter
If the Braves do not make any additions or subtractions to their current list of rotation candidates, they are planning to open the season with the fifth starting spot being filled by a few of their pitching prospects on a rotating basis.
Like last season, the Braves will take advantage of every opportunity to give each of their starting pitchers an extra day of rest between starts. They would have the option to maximize these opportunities by shuttling the likes of Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried and other optionable prospects to and from Triple-A Gwinnett.
"It will be similar to what we did last year, when we brought a guy up to get somebody an extra day of rest. Options are golden with these guys. I wouldn't say it will specifically be a six-man rotation, but it's going to essentially look like that."
Pace yourself
Soroka and Dansby Swanson are expected to report to Spring Training without any physical restrictions. But as they return from their respective injuries, both will likely see limited playing time during the early portion of the Grapefruit League schedule.
Swanson's left wrist began bothering him when the Braves played the Cubs at a frigid Wrigley Field on April 14 and continued to give him problems until he was shut down during the regular season's final week. Braves head team physician Dr. Gary Lourie removed a lima bean-sized portion of damaged cartilage from the shortstop's wrist in November.
Having recovered from surgery, Swanson began hitting off a tee in pain-free fashion earlier this week. He understands he'll have plenty of time to properly prepare for the season if he paces himself through the early weeks of Spring Training and then begins to ramp up his activities over the final couple weeks.
Soroka was sidelined over last season's final three months because of right shoulder discomfort caused by muscles attached to his scapula. The highly regarded prospect pitched with maximum effort during some instructional league games in October and has not experienced any problems while throwing over the past two months.

"[Soroka] is healthy and he feels good, but he did miss a significant amount of time last year," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "So, we're going to be cognizant of that. We don't need him on April 1. We need to make sure we have him later in the year, too, and get him through a full season."
Number switch
To accommodate Brian McCann's return, Charlie Culberson has switched his jersey number to eight and allowed the veteran catcher to reclaim the No. 16 jersey he wore while playing for the Braves from 2005-2013.
Culberson has not yet learned what McCann may provide as compensation.
"Typically, they give the guy a watch or something like that," Culberson said. "But I told him, I don't care. Brian McCann is one of the best. He'll do whatever he wants to do and I'm OK with it."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.