by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Late last night the news broke that the Braves were set to recall Ronald Acuna, the consensus top prospect in baseball. It’s a surprise that it took this long, to an extent, though a slow start at Triple-A was part of the reason (maybe you want to attribute that to the disappointment of not making the MLB roster out of Spring Training). As it is, even after putting up a .300 average over his past 10 games you can argue that the numbers are relatively unimpressive:
.232 (16-69), 1 HR, 2 RBI, 9 R, 4 SB
He hadn’t struck out in three straight games, but he leaves Triple-A with 2 K in his final game and a complete lack of extra base hits (1 double, 1 HR). That has to make you wonder, exactly what can we expect from him upon reaching the Majors:
The 20-year old entered Tuesday with a 13.4% SwStr%, and while we may want to cite a small sample size he posted a 12.8% mark over 243 PA at Triple-A in ’17. While the latter led to just a 19.8% strikeout rate the risk was obvious and it’s likely that MLB pitchers will further expose the issue (as it is the strikeout rate has ballooned to 28.21% in ’18).
Acuna has proven capable of drawing a walk, including an 11.54% mark this season), but is that enough? It’s clear that he has work to do with his plate discipline, and while the upside is there it wouldn’t be surprising to see him struggle to make contact (and therefore with his average) initially.
You have to wonder if Acuna is buying into the hype, to an extent, and therefore swinging for the fences (fly ball rate at Triple-A):
- 2017 – 30.2%
- 2018 – 42.2%
Obviously we’d expect better than a 5.3% HR/FB (what he entered the day with on Tuesday), and he showed plenty of power last season (31 doubles, 8 triples and 21 HR). The problem is if he continues with an increased fly ball rate the likelihood of an elevated BABIP decreases, even with his speed, and therefore it will further drag down his average potential.
We all know he can run, but will he get many opportunities to do so initially? It’s hard to imagine the Braves sticking him at the top of the order, with Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies forming a solid 1-2 punch. He’s also not ready to be a middle of the order bat, meaning he’s going to be slotted in the 6-8 range (unless they go the route of hitting their pitcher 8th). That means fewer opportunities to run, capping his value there as well.
We all know Acuna is among the elite prospects in the game, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to thrive immediately. There are some significant warning signs, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him hit .260ish or worse. There’s upside in the power and speed, though neither are a guarantee right away (especially given the lack of pop he showed at Triple-A this season). Prior to the season we projected him to hit .268 with 16 HR and 22 SB over 425 AB, and while those are still solid numbers he could ultimately fall short across the board. Think of him as potentially hitting around .260 with 12 HR and 15 SB. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also not what most are expecting.
He’s obviously a must own, just know the risks involved.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
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