Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Next Mike Trout?

There is nothing like covering minor league baseball and watching guys who might someday be the next big superstar. The one name that dominated minor league baseball last year,  besides Tim Tebow was teenager Ronald Acuna of the Braves organization.

He is projected as the future face of the Braves franchise and already being compared to Mike Trout. The future isn't that far away either. Acuna is now 20 years old and should be starting in the Braves outfield on Opening Day. Of course what should happen isn't what will happen. Look for the Braves to wait until a couple of months into the season before bringing Acuna up which will  delay his free agency clock. 

Keith Law came out with his Top 50 prospects in professional baseball today and he has Acuna sitting at #1. Here is Law's write up on Acuna:

 Acuna got off to a slow start in high-A in 2017 and didn't seem to be playing at full effort until Atlanta promoted him to Double-A in early May, after which he exploded, hitting .335/.384/.534 in 486 plate appearances for Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. He even led the Arizona Fall League in homers with seven. And he did all of this at age 19, turning 20 well after the season ended.

Acuna's bat is electric. He's short and quick to the ball with exceptional hand strength providing average power already even though he's not particularly big. He's also a plus runner whose speed helps cover plenty of ground in center, although he's only the third-best defensive center fielder in Atlanta's system (counting Ender Inciarte). What sets Acuna apart from most other prospects in the minors, beyond his youth, is his approach at the plate, including outstanding plate coverage and very good ball-strike recognition. He was the only teenage position player to play in Triple-A in 2017, and his average, OBP and slugging all ranked in the top five in the International League (minimum 141 at-bats).

If Acuna stays in center and maxes out his power, he's going to be among the best players in baseball, with a Mike Trout-ish profile. Even if Acuna hits "only" about 20 homers a year, it'll come with 40-50 doubles, huge contact rates and solid OBPs. The presence of Inciarte and Cristian Pache may push Acuna to a corner for Atlanta, but he could play center field for many clubs, and it's reasonable to think he'll be a plus defender in right field anyway. There's still a little variance in how the bat projects, but there's a higher probability of Acuna being an above-average regular for a long time than any other player in the minors.

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