Braves promote top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr.

The wait is over. The Atlanta Braves officially promoted top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr. from Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday. He joined the big league club in Cincinnati, where he is batting sixth in the starting lineup and playing left field against the Reds.

Initial indications that Acuña could be called up began shortly after the Braves’ 9-7 loss to the Reds on Tuesday night. Mark Bowman of MLB.com confirmed that the club planned to promote the talented outfielder. The move was officially made in advance of Wednesday night’s game. Atlanta designated outfielder Peter Bourjos for assignment to make room on the roster.

Acuña, 20, caught the baseball world’s attention in 2017 when he blazed his way through three levels of the minor leagues and earned top prospect status. He batted .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, 21 homers, 82 RBI and 44 stolen bases in 139 games, all the while improving at each stop. Baseball America anointed Acuña the No. 1 prospect in the game, while MLB Pipeline rated him No. 2 behind Los Angeles Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani.

Acuña followed up an outstanding 2017 season by earning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League. Then he turned in a torrid spring training for Atlanta to open 2018. Acuña led the Grapefruit League with a .432 batting average while hitting four home runs in 52 plate appearances at the time he was reassigned to minor league camp.

Ultimately, the club decided to start the talented young outfielder in the minor leagues. The decision was based on service time. Sending Acuña back to Triple-A for just two weeks allowed Atlanta to gain an additional year of contractual control.

The Braves had to wait until April 14th in order to insure the seventh season of control. Delaying Acuña’s promotion until early June would have allowed the club to avoid Super Two status, but that never seemed to be a real consideration.

Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos cited some final development as the reason Acuña began this season in Gwinnett. Though he started slowly, Acuña had shown recent signs of turning things around at the plate, including two more hits on Tuesday night for Gwinnett. He was batting .232 with one homer, two RBI, nine runs scored and four stolen bases in 17 games for Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate this season.

The slow start gave the Braves reason to wait and see when the young outfielder would start to put up the kind of at-bats and numbers all parties had grown accustomed to. The expectation was always that it would happen sooner than later.

Now the wait is over.

“His ability, his talent, what we think of him long term hasn’t changed one iota,” Anthopoulos said last week. “There’s a difference between spring training, where no one is preparing and advancing for you and you’re playing six or seven innings and getting into the flow and routine of games.”

“More development isn’t going to hurt anybody,” Anthopoulos added. “We prefer to call players up when they’re performing at a high level, when they’re locked in.”

Anthopoulos, who served as a Dodgers executive last season was quick to point out a recent precedent for promoting a young player who was in a groove as opposed to one who was scuffling.

“My most recent experience with that would be Cody Bellinger last year with L.A.” said Anthopouos of the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year. “He was on fire down there. Our manager down there was saying ‘he’s the best player in the league, he looks great, he’s locked in.’ Those are the type of conversations you hope to have. That’s when you’re looking to call guys up, when they’re locked in and seeing the ball well.”

That appears to be the case for Acuña of late.

After batting just .138 over the first seven games for Gwinnett, Acuña batted .300 over the last 10 games and was starting to put together much better at-bats.

Acuña will become Atlanta’s starting left fielder, and at 20 years, 128 days old will become the youngest player in the major leagues upon his debut, supplanting teammate Ozzie Albies.

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