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Prospects Acuna, Albies at Braves' doorstep

Both remain focused on honing craft at Triple-A
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Ronald Acuna understands the underlying message when somebody discusses his rapid rise to the Triple-A level and includes something along the lines of "And, he's only 19 years old."

"When people say I'm only 19, I think they're only saying it because they believe I'm too young to be in this league," Acuna said through an interpreter.

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ATLANTA -- Ronald Acuna understands the underlying message when somebody discusses his rapid rise to the Triple-A level and includes something along the lines of "And, he's only 19 years old."

"When people say I'm only 19, I think they're only saying it because they believe I'm too young to be in this league," Acuna said through an interpreter.

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So, now that he's spent nearly two full weeks with Triple-A Gwinnett, does Acuna agree with this sentiment? "Yeah, but I'm here," said the highly-talented Venezuelan outfielder who might rank as the Braves' top prospect when MLBPipeline.com releases its updated rankings on Monday.

Less than four months after beginning this season with Class A Advanced Florida, Acuna finds himself playing alongside his best friend and roommate Ozzie Albies. The two highly regarded prospects both stand just one step away from reaching the Major League level. But for now they remain focused on extending their development with Gwinnett and enjoying their first opportunity to be teammates.

"He always calls me his little brother," said a chuckling Albies, who is actually 11 months older than Acuna.

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Attempting to follow the path paved by fellow second baseman Jose Altuve and other vertically challenged players, Albies, who is generously listed at 5-foot-9, has truly put himself on the doorstep of being promoted to Atlanta. There is a chance he could get the call within the next couple weeks, especially if the Braves opt to trade Brandon Phillips. If nothing else, this Curacao native would almost certainly be one of the players promoted when the big league rosters expand in September.

"This season has been good," Albies said. "I'm just going to keep balling out there."

Currently ranked as baseball's seventh-best overall prospect and the top prospect in the Braves' system by MLBPipeline.com, Albies entered Sunday hitting .288 with a career-high nine home runs and a .781 OPS. The switch-hitter struggled against right-handed pitching during the early portion of this season. He admits his struggles were a product of being tentative about the durability of his right elbow, which he fractured while taking a check swing in September.

"I had to get used to my arm," Albies said. "Coming from the surgery, I didn't feel like I could let it go yet. I had to get used to it a little bit. Now, it feels great."

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Albies has proudly played the antagonizing "little brother" role since being reunited with Acuna, who joined Gwinnett on July 13. He was among the Gwinnett players who playfully jabbed Acuna by saying he was already being given preferential treatment when he was limited to a pinch-hit appearance as Sunday's game against Indianapolis was played in hot and humid conditions.

Acuna hit .326 with nine homers and a .895 OPS in the 243 plate appearances he compiled for Double-A Mississippi, while standing as one of the youngest players in the Southern League. The outfielder, who has drawn comparisons to a young Andruw Jones, recorded a three-hit performance during his Gwinnett debut. But despite drilling a jaw-dropping home run that was hit with a 114-mph exit velocity on Monday, he has batted just .225 against the much more experienced pitchers he's faced in the International League.

"Now that I'm here and I'm one step closer to the big leagues, I have more inspiration to get there [this season] and to keep working hard," Acuna said.

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

Atlanta Braves