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Braves would like Ronald Acuna to keep hat straight


Ronald Acuna is the top prospect in baseball and, the Braves hope, their next franchise player. Though only 19 last season, he sailed through three minor league levels, even handling Triple-A pitching with ease, batting .344/.393/.548 with nine homers in 54 games. The outfielder is in big league camp right now and the smart money has him spending most of his year in Atlanta.

Mark Bowman of reports, however, that the Braves would like to see something else from him before he makes the big leagues:

The Braves want Acuna to wear his hat straight and maintain a professional appearance while in uniform. But they do not want to change much about the fun-loving, flamboyant approach that has made him one of the game’s most exciting young players.

A straight cap? Is that something that really matters in this day and age? That comment, not attributed to anyone in the organization, is just sort of hanging out there. I’ve met and talked to Mark Bowman a number of times and I have no reason to suspect that that’s him just editorializing. He’s not a “play the game the right way” kind of guy who would be bothered by a young player wearing his cap crooked. It sounds like it’s something he’s heard people with the Braves say and Bowman is slipping it in there.

Indeed, someone with the Braves right now — spring instructor Andruw Jones — is explicitly on the “respect the game” train. Here he is talking about Acuna:

“Cocky is a good thing. But respecting the game is also very important . . . The main thing he needs to remember is keep your head straight and respect [your surroundings] . . . Be humble, but a humble-cocky.”

Whatever that means. It’s baseballspeak. If you win 20 in the show you can have fungus on your shower shoes, etc.

My specific issue here isn’t to harp on someone caring about Acuna’s cap, even if that’s a dumb thing to care about. I flag this mostly because I suspect that this narrative on Acuna — he’s great but he’s young and needs to learn to respect the game — is aimed at laying the groundwork for an excuse to keep him in the minors for service time issues to start the season, even if he rakes all spring training long. I mean, yes, the Braves are almost certain to do that anyway because keeping young players from arbitration and free agency for as long as possible is what clubs do, but clubs do prefer to have a pretext if at all possible so as not to be so obvious about it. Remember the Kris Bryant controversy? No one wants that.

In the meantime, knowing how a certain swath of Braves fandom operates when presented with a certain sort of young player, I suspect the Braves’ concern about Acuna’s maturity, his respect for the game and the straightness of his cap will serve as a source of criticism for the young prospect. Watch for comments about his cap and his “professionalism” on a Braves message board near you.



Tony Clark: Universal DH ‘gaining momentum’ among players


Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark met the press late this morning and covered a wide array of topics.

One of them: free agency, which he referred to as being “under attack” based on the slow market for free agents last offseason.

“What the players saw last offseason was that their free-agent rights were under attack on what has been the bedrock of our system,” Clark said. He added that they “have some very difficult decisions to make.” Presumably in the form of grievances and, down the road, a negotiating strategy that seeks to claw back some of the many concessions the union has given owners in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. CBAs, it’s worth noting, that Clark negotiated. We’ve covered that territory in detail in the past.

Of more immediate interest was Clark’s comment that the idea of a universal designated hitter is, among players, “gaining momentum.” Clark says “players are talking about it more than they have in the past.” We’ve talked a lot about that as well.

Given that hating or loving the DH is the closest thing baseball has to a religion, no one’s mind is going to be changed by any of this, but I think, practically speaking, it’s inevitable that the National League will have the DH and I think it happens relatively soon. Perhaps in the next five years. The opposition to it at this point is solely subjective and based on tradition. People like pitchers batting and they like double switches and they like the leagues being different because they, well, like it. If the system were being set up today, however, they’d never have it this way and I think even the DH-haters know that well. That doesn’t mean that you can’t dislike a universal DH, but it does mean that you can’t expect the people who run the game to cater to that preference when it makes little sense for them to do it for their own purposes.

Anyway, enjoy convincing each other in the comments about how the side of that argument you dislike is wrong.