Braves top prospect Ronald Acuña was a hot topic of conversation last month. The 20-year-old outfielder lit up opposing pitching all spring, batting .432 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 52 plate appearances. As expected, however, the Braves sent him to Triple-A Gwinnett to start the season.
The reason why the Braves did that was fairly obvious, even though they never admitted to it: service time manipulation. Once a certain portion of the season passes — typically around mid-April — teams are assured of an extra year of contractual control over their players who haven’t played in the majors yet. This is why the Cubs briefly delayed Kris Bryant‘s MLB debut in 2015 and it’s why Acuña started the year with Gwinnett.
Acuña tore up Triple-A pitching last year just as he did spring pitching. In 243 plate appearances, he hit .344/.393/.548, which is why MLB Pipeline ranked him as the Braves’ No. 1 prospect and No. 2 overall in baseball behind Shohei Ohtani. Unfortunately for Acuña, he hasn’t had the same success to start the 2018 season. In 36 plate appearances, he’s batting a lowly .152/.222/.182. According to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, the Braves are now saying they won’t promote their top prospect until he shows better results at Triple-A.
The Braves, who aren’t really beholden to service time manipulation anymore, aren’t being coy this time — Acuña’s stats are miserable and the Braves’ offense (save for Ender Inciarte) has been excellent to start the season, so there’s no rush here. Once Preston Tucker‘s hot streak wears off and when Acuña is hitting better, then the Braves will be motivated to call him up.