The Acuña Ascension

Hi, Ken and Dan here. Since there is so much talk on the twitters regarding the ascension of the Holy One, Ronald Acuña Jr., we thought we would sit down and share some reasonable thoughts for why the Braves might choose to wait on promoting the young phenom. The following is our completely reasonable analysis of why the Braves organization might make different decisions regarding “He who will save us”.

Dan: It is no secret that the Atlanta Braves will, at some point, promote their 20-year-old phenom Ronald Acuña in 2018. There was even thoughts of him possibly making the Braves opening day roster coming out of spring. While I think those thoughts were more hopes than realistic expectations, based on how Acuña, Jr. performed in 2017, it gave inclinations as to what he could do on a baseball field.

However, his ascension through the ranks of minor league baseball in 2017 was unprecedented, even for a top prospect. There’s no question Atlanta could use his skills in the lineup and in the field; but do they need him right now?

As the 2018 spring season opened, there was controversy on when Atlanta would in-fact, promote Acuña. As fans, most of us think we understand the business side of things well enough. We knew in order to maintain control of Acuña for an extra year, the Braves would start him in Gwinnett and possibly bring him up no sooner than this week. But a few wrenches have thwarted his possible mid-April call-up.

Those wrenches? Preston Tucker and Ronald Acuña. Preston Tucker has gotten off to a decent start. Ronald Acuña has not.

Ken: A few extra weeks for other teams to look at Preston Tucker and possibly decide he deserves a big league chance (worth trading some real prospect capital for) before the Braves are forced to evaluate the option of trading him away, is certainly defensible.

Dan: So far in this early 2018 season, as of 16th April 2018, Acuña has 36 PAs yielding 33 ABs. In those 33 At-Bats, he is 5 for 33 that include 4 singles and one double. He has 2 runs scored and zero RBI. In those 33 PAs he’s drawn 3 BBs. This slow start looks like this in slash form: .152/.222/.182/.404. Not exactly tearing it up early on.

He has an ISO of .030, a .238 BABIP, a .198 wOBA, and 18 wRC+. In 36 PAs he has struck out 12 times. He struck out only 48 times in AAA last year in 243 PAs. In 2017 his K% was 19.8%. In 2018 so far, it’s 33.3% in 33 PAs. In 2017, that a K for approximately every 5 PAs and in 2018, a K in every 2.7 ABs.

Is it too early to panic? Probably.

Now there are reports coming out, that because of not only this slow start, but also the play of Preston Tucker, that it has given the Braves some time to think. And while they are thinking, the Super-2 status conversation is churning.

Ken: Those are great thoughts and statistics Dan, and I believe certainly have played into the Braves reasoning. However, I’m going to take a strictly cynical approach to might thoughts on the Braves dealings. I think they are keeping him down because they hate looking like liars. Do you remember the vitriol that the Chicago Cubs received when they kept down, the obviously ready, Kris Bryant? I do. The national news crucified the Cubs for manipulating service time, which is against the rules of the MLB CBA. Bryant (amongst others) filed grievances with the MLBPA against the Cubs, as Jeff Passan wrote here.

Why would keeping Acuña down look like the Braves were lying? Let’s not kid ourselves, the primary reason he’s being held down is to do exactly what they aren’t supposed to do, manipulate his service time. But because that is illegal and the Braves are coming off of a winter that featured the harshest penalties in MLB history against a baseball franchise, they truly can’t afford to look like cheaters. If they sent Acuña Jr down to “€œwork on some things” as they have stated, then bringing him up in the middle of a terrible start looks like outright lying. Acuña has struggled to find his timing at AAA and has struck out far too often in his first few games. If he had started hot, I doubt we are having this discussion or writing this article, and I would assume he would be starting today for the Atlanta Braves.

Dan: New Braves GM, Alex Anthopoulos, has gone on record saying he would have not progressed Acuña through the minor league system so swiftly, which leads me to believe, by the way, that we won’t see that same progression rate for Christian Pache. I believe, right now, there are fans on either side of the fence on Acuña right now. I don’t feel any of them think Acuña won’t get promoted this year, but I think there are contingents that are realizing mid-April may not be the best time to bring him up.

Ken: Of course there is another contingent that has decided that the Braves are the trashiest organization that they have ever seen and that there is a personal vendetta out against Acuña Jr, for some unknown reason, and that they are out to stiff fans and the young phenom destined to save the organization. Some fans have insinuated that this is a way to pad attendance numbers and create multiple weeks of expectant fans buying pre-sales to see Acuña at his first game. While it certainly is possible, that doesn’t seem to fit with just about anything else the front office has done since Alex Anthopoulos has taken over, so I for one choose the benefit of the doubt. Why not just call him up and pack all the games if you are truly only doing this for a few extra ticket sales? That would be the penultimate example of obscene pettiness and feels like the ramblings of conspiracy theorists aka: impatient fans.

Dan: Let’s look at few numbers for a minute. Ronald Acuña, Jr. played at three levels of minor league baseball in 2017. He dominated every level, that’s apparent. However, I think his domination in 2017 was more about inconsistency, rather than a sustained display of consistent dominance.

Let me explain:

I don’t want to focus too much on stats here. What I want to do, is look at one number and one column: Games played.

  • High-A: Florida Fire Frogs – 28 games played
  • Double-A: Mississippi Braves – 57 games played
  • Triple-A: Gwinnet Braves – 54 games played

Acuña has not been in one place long enough to find a routine or establish himself. Routines are a big part of the game. You hear it all the time from pitchers. When talking about, or analyzing Ronald Acuña’€™s 2017 and his early 2018, you have to remember that he played at three levels last year. All completely different levels in any regard. There was hardly any time for either Acuña or the league for that matter, to adequately acclimate. This slow start in 2018 could be showing not only Braves, but also Acuña that maybe, he isn’t quite ready. He’s close, really close, but just not there yet.

Ken: That’s certainly one way to look at it, and I think the argument you are making is exactly the argument that the Braves front office will use, should Acuña and his agent choose to file a grievance for service time manipulation. That being said, Mike Trout, Ken Griffey, Andruw Jones, Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, Trevor Bauer, and Kirby Puckett didn’t have any trouble shooting through the minors and making a big league team while finding their routines and rhythms. Heck, Bob Horner is one of many who skipped the minors all together, and he hit a homer in his very first at bat. As to struggling, after being called up, even Mike Trout struggled a bit to make the major league adjustment, but I don’t think anyone was complaining about it.

But to your point Dan, it wasn’t that long ago that a large contingent of fans were freaking out about Dansby Swanson having a down year after being called up “too early”. Yet another reason that the Braves can use to validate their decision to keep him down. They don’t need the next ‘face of the franchise’ to struggle, the way many of even the biggest stars do, and once again be facing the persistent allegations of fans who believe they moved “too fast”.

The truth is, Dan isn’t wrong at all, but I think the reverse argument can weigh just as heavily. Get the kid up, he proved in the spring he was ready, there is no reason to wait… unless you’re worried about the organization taking a shot from national writers when their reputation is already in the mud.

Dan: I’m not saying Acuña won’t make his debut this year, but I think there is some merit to him never really getting settled at any level last year long enough, to really know how he’d respond to any adversity. Acuña will be a superstar in this game, and for all intents and purposes, he may already be there. If he wants to make this Atlanta ball club, though, in 2018, he probably needs to prove that he can sustain his productivity for an extended amount of time.

Ken: By an extended amount of time, I’m thinking 3-5 days.

Dan: I mean, have we really seen enough to know how he would handle a slump yet? Pitching at the MLB level is nothing at all like the pitching in the minors, even at AAA. If he has trouble responding to the likes of International League pitching, how will he respond to the Scherzer’s, deGrom’s, Strasburg’s, and even Kershaw’s of Major League Baseball?

Ken: Some things are worth learning on the fly. My guess is that he will be set to get a nice taste of Scherzer, Strasburg, DeGrom, and Syndergaard before 2 more weeks are up. So for all those worried enjoy the anticipation. Think of it like Tantric sex. The longer you wait the better it’ll be… or something like that.

Dan: I think the Braves have a lot of legitimate reasons to wait if they want to use them.

Ken: I think you’re absolutely right, and for a club who’s previous regime left it with a ‘€œdamned spot’ that won’t easily wash away, some good rationale and a little patience are wise moves to make before throwing your name into the national headlines as the bad guy again. It’s nothing to do with their faith in Ronald Acuña Jr., his performance, or spite for fans. As the Godfather said, “It’s just business.”

The truth is Dan and I both think he’s ready, we’re just trying to help you Knuckleheads realize there is more than one way to look at it, and it might be worth a deep breath. Share this junk with your friends.

One thought on “The Acuña Ascension

  • April 17, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    Crushed a homer tonight and added a double but slid off the base. Won’t be long now.


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