Most 19 year-olds, even the best ones, are revealed at some point to not be ready for the next level. They’re 19. It happens. But in 2017 Braves outfield prospect Ronald Acuna showed that no minor league level was ready for him.
He started last year’s campaign at high-A Florida, where he hit .287/.336/.478 in 28 games. He then moved on to Double-A Mississippi, where he hit .326/.374/.520 with nine homers and 19 steals in 243 plate appearances. You’d figure at his age that Triple-A would eat him alive, but he then went on to Gwinnett and hit .344/.393/.548 in 243 plate appearances with nine homers 14 doubles and 11 stolen bases. All together he hit .325/.366/.522 with 21 homers, 44 steals and 31 doubles across three levels. He didn’t turn 20 until December.
So far this spring Acuna is continuing to rake. Entering play yesterday he led the Grapefruit League in average, hitting .412, and OBP, reaching base at a .512 clip. He went 1-for-2 with a homer, his third of the spring. He’s not just padding those numbers against tomato cans, either. All three of his homers have come off of legit big league pitchers: Masahiro Tanaka, Aaron Sanchez and Mike Fiers. We know spring training stats don’t mean a heck of a lot, but between them, his minor league track record and the fact that he is the consensus top prospect in baseball, with scouts raving about him, it’s safe to say that Acuna is major league ready.
All of which is going to make it hilarious when the Braves cut him and send him to the minors to start the season, as they are widely expected to do.
You know and I know why they’ll do it: service time. If they keep Acuna down for a couple of weeks in April, he won’t get enough service time in 2018 to make him a potential free agent until after the 2024 season as opposed to the 2023 season. We saw the Cubs do this with Kris Bryant a couple of years back. We’ve seen a lot of guys go through this. Barring something extraordinary happening, I strongly suspect the Braves will do it with Acuna too.
At this point people tend to shout “Hey, it’s the smart play! You’d do it too if you were the Braves! It could save them millions and it won’t make a difference given that they won’t be contending in 2018. That’s how the system is set up and you can’t blame the Braves for taking advantage of it!”
Save it. I know this. I’ve heard it a million times and I don’t really care. I don’t care — and you should not care either — because neither you or I are the general manager of the Atlanta Braves. It’s not our money the Braves would be saving, it’s Liberty Media’s money. It’s not our job to make sure the Braves are cost conscious or competitive from year to year, it’s the club’s. If Acuna is approaching free agency on a winning Braves team in 2023 instead of 2024, the Braves will still have the same basic decision to make about his future and, if they’re smart, they’ll have made it long before then anyway. If one year of free agency of one key player is the difference between the Braves winning and losing, they’ve not done the best job they could building a team anyway.
My interest is as a fan and, as a fan, I want the Braves to put the best team they possibly can put together now, later and far into the future, not just far into the future. I will be a lot more excited about the team I root for if Ronald Acuna is on the club on Opening Day and some appeal to efficiency and cost consciousness come 2024 will not make me enjoy watching Lane Adams any more than I already do.
If you feel differently about that, fine, but I’d ask you to ask yourself why you feel it necessary to view things from the perspective of the front office as opposed to the perspective of a fan who, each day, should want to see the best players the organization has to offer. I’d also ask you to ask yourself why you take the front office at face value when it says stuff like “we can’t afford Player X when he hits free agency, so we need to keep his costs down now.” Such assertions, which are implicit in any appeal to the wisdom of keeping Acuna down on the farm to start the season, are not deserving of blind acceptance, especially from a club who just saw its revenues skyrocket because of a new taxpayer-funded ballpark. Such appeals to the future, which cannot be rationally questioned given the way they are poised, are stacked against the fan in the present.
None of which will sway most of you, I presume, and none of which will sway the Braves. I strongly suspect Acuna will be sent down and, when he is, I strongly suspect most fans will applaud it as a shrewd move. If he does get sent down, the Republic will not fall and the world will not end. He’ll be up eventually, probably by May. We will not have been harmed too terribly much by that delay, even if Acuna’s eventual financial windfall is put off a year. After all, just as the Braves money is not our money, neither is Acuna’s.
I will be eager to hear the reasoning for his demotion when it comes, however, because we know from experience it will not be honest. Yes, the Braves are within their rights to send Acuna down, but they are almost certainly unwilling to say such a thing. As the Cubs did with Kris Bryant, they will say he has to work on his defense or some other aspect of his game that is less than perfectly quantifiable and thus, like appeals to the future, defensible via an appeal to the club’s authority. Part of me hopes they get super creative with it. “Acuna is great, but he really hasn’t mastered the traffic patterns in Cobb County yet, and we want to send him to our suburban Triple-A team so he can get a better feel for cloverleaf interchanges in a lower pressure situation” would be a good one. Feel free to use it, Braves.
In the meantime, we can all marvel at the silliness of it all. At how and why a baseball team would deprive itself of one of its best players, even if for only a few weeks, and what that means for the way the game is arranged, financially speaking. And why, despite the clear reason being a financial one, they will not simply admit that that’s what they’re doing, even if they have the right.
Here are the scores. Here are the highlights. The Orioles-Indians one is last and is really, really long, but I suspect a lot of you will appreciate it.
Pirates 2, Cubs 1: Adam Frazier socked a two-out, pinch-hit, 11th inning walkoff homer to earn a split for the Buccos. That it was a split was a minor miracle, really, given that the Cubs scored exactly four runs in the series. One run each game, in fact. They just happened to win 1-0 on both Thursday and Friday.
Rockies 4, Braves 2: Atlanta won five in a row last week and claimed first place and then went and got swept in a four-game series at home this weekend. Not that beating good teams is new to the Rockies. Colorado is 30-16 since June 26 and all 46 of those games have been played against winning teams. Or, at the very least, teams which were winning teams at the time. DJ LeMahieu was a killer this weekend. He hit a tie-breaking homer in extra innings on Saturday night and then he homered again here. Braves manager Brian Snitker, commenting on four straight losses on the heels of a five-game winning streak:
“In this business, every time you think you have something figured out, you get kicked right in the teeth”
If he’d have changed “this business” to “life” and then he’d really be dropping truth bombs. Lucky for him sometimes, even when you get kicked in the teeth, things don’t go as bad as they could, though. Such as the Phillies losing two in a row to the Mets and missing out on an excellent chance to make up more ground.
Marlins 12, Nationals 1: The Nats, meanwhile, dropped their seventh game in their last ten. They could do nothing against Jose Urena — and lucky they didn’t, or else maybe he’d try to hurt injure them — who tossed a complete game, allowing just the one run on only two hits. Starlin Castro had five hits and scored three times. JT Riddle and J.T. Realmuto each homered and drove in three, proving once and for all that the periods, or lack thereof, in their first names have no bearing on their baseball ability. That’s just science.
Rangers 4, Angels 2: Rougned Odor hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh to give the Rangers their third win in the four-game series. Bartolo Colon was supposed to start this one for Texas but didn’t because of back stiffness. This is how, all the jokes about his size and his age aside, you know that Colon is a legit athlete. For all normal 45 year-olds — and I speak from personal experience here — back stiffness is more or less the default status, not the rare anomaly which interrupts one’s normal routine.
Rays 2, Red Sox 0: Five Rays pitchers combined to shut out the Sox, Joey Wendle and C.J. Cron went deep and Tampa Bay avoided the sweep. In related news, over the weekend some Rays fans on Twitter decided to take me to task for not thinking the Rays would be good this year. Even the Tampa Bay Times got into the act yesterday, citing yours truly by name.
On the one hand I will totally cop to thinking the Rays would be far worse than they are. Like a lot of predictions, I blew that one. Kudos to the Rays for beating mine and everyone’s expectations for them.
On the other hand, the level of aggression I got from the Rays folks over the weekend was pretty hilarious given that, overachieving notwithstanding, we’re still talking about a team that has hovered around .500 all year and is around 25 games out of first place and 11 back in the Wild Card race. The Oakland A’s they are not. It also doesn’t take into account that most of my criticism was about the Rays front office making financial moves, not baseball moves, and doing it pretty cynically and pretty transparently. That those moves have happened to turn out far better for them than expected does not change the fact that they were financial moves that were and remain pretty hostile to casual fans, most of whom are looking for a connection to their team and some continuity to that end, and who do not give a flying frick about how many prospects are playing in Princeton or wherever and are not as jazzed by a three-year plan as they might be by, you know, having a front office who has as at least part of its mission to put an entertaining product on the field. There’s a certain swath of Rays fandom who does not understand that and, in fact, seems aggressively opposed to even trying to understand it.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not appreciating the glory of their accomplishment in 2018. Rather than merely receiving a respectful nod for doing far better than anyone expected and a mea culpa from those of us who got it wrong, maybe the Rays should hoist a “Most wins per dollars spent” banner to go with the Wild Card banner they put up a couple of years back to show the haters exactly what they’re dealing with.
Yankees 10, Blue Jays 2: Greg Bird hit a grand slam in the first inning and everything after that was cream cheese. J.A. Happ won for the fourth time in four starts as a Yankee, this one against his old mates. It wasn’t all good news, though: Didi Gregorius hurt his left heel in a collision at first base and left the game with a deep bruise that could land him on the disabled list. New York sweeps the three-game series.
Reds 11, Giants 4: Cincy put up a seven-run third inning ending this one before it even got going. Eugenio Suarez and Jose Peraza each hit two-run homers and Billy Hamilton tripled twice and drove in three. The Reds sweep the Giants, who fall eight games back in the west and three games under .500. They scored six runs in the whole series.
White Sox 7, Royals 6: Kansas City took a 6-0 lead into the fourth inning but the Chisox put up a tying six-spot that inning and added a decisive seventh run in the fifth. Omar Narvaez tied it up at six with a homer and then knocked in that decisive run I mentioned with an RBI single. Avasail Garcia hit a three-run bomb.
Twins 5, Tigers 4: Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jake Cave all went deep as the Twinkies won their fifth of six. Does anyone call them the Twinkies anymore? I haven’t heard that one for a long time. Then again, I don’t really watch a lot of Twinkies games and never watch sports network highlight shows so maybe I’m just missing it.
Brewers 2, Cardinals 1: Mike Moustakas‘ two-run double in the third held up thanks to Jhoulys Chacin‘s six shutout innings. The win puts the Brewers back ahead of St. Louis for the second Wild Card and ends Milwaukee’s three-game losing streak.
Astros 9, Athletics 4: Houston salvages one and in so doing regains their lead in the AL West. Justin Verlander got the W, earning the 200th win of his career. It wasn’t a pretty win — he didn’t make it out of the sixth and gave up four runs in the process, with three of those runs coming on Khris Davis homers — but as we so often note around here, wins are team-dependent and here his team picked him up. Most of that picking up came via the longball, with Yuli Gurriel, Evan Gattis, Martin Maldonado, Alex Bregman and Marwin Gonzalez going deep.
Dodgers 12, Mariners 1: Clayton Kershaw hasn’t gotten a lot of that team support this year but he got five runs before he even had to throw a pitch here and then cruised to his 150th career win. Maybe the Dodgers’ batters were pissed over losing in extra innings on a walkoff balk the night before. I know I would be. Difference with me is that, when I’m mad, I don’t usually do better work. Justin Turner hit a three-run homer and drove in five. Kershaw allowed one run on four hits in seven innings. L.A. did not gain any ground in the West though, thanks in part to that Rockies win over the Braves and thanks in part to . . .
Diamondbacks 4, Padres 3: . . . the Snakes beating the Friars. A.J. Pollock‘s ninth inning homer was the difference. Arizona had tied it at 3 thanks to Daniel Descalso‘s solo homer in the eighth. The Diamondbacks have won four of five. They retain a half-game lead over Colorado.
Mets 8, Phillies 2: Amed Rosario had three hits and drove in three runs, Jeff McNeil had a two-run single and Jason Vargas was effective into the sixth inning as the Mets beat the Phillies in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in the Little League Classic. The Phillies have lost seven of 11 and drop a half game behind Atlanta in the East.
Indians 8, Orioles 0: Melky Cabrera hit a grand slam in Cleveland’s six-run fourth inning, Mike Clevinger shut the O’s out for six and three relievers finished it off as the Tribe takes two of three from the O’s.
In related news, I took my kids to the first game of this series on Friday night. They’re not really big baseball fans, but they like going to games. Partially because it’s fun and there’s junk food, but mostly because it provides them a new venue for the sort of savage and absurdist commentary for which Gen-Z kids are quickly becoming famous.
I’ve watched this from a front row seat for a couple of years now. Anyone who follows me on Twitter is familiar with how brutally my daughter Anna, 14, owns me via text messages (and some old timers around here may remember her greatest hits from WAY back in the day). Others who follow me know how deeply into absurdist and envelope-pushing meme culture my son, Carlo, 13, happens to be. Every day is a new, eye-opening adventure. I’m impressed by the level of savagery they’re capable of in their early teens and terrified at what they’re going to capable of once they reach adulthood.
I’m likewise suffering from no small amount of whiplash. I mean, I once thought my fellow Gen-Xers and I had perfected ironic emotional detachment and that whole “whatever, nothing matters anyway” stance. I also thought that a decade’s worth of Millennials restoring an earnestness and emotional honesty to the lexicon of our nation’s youth — the likes of which we haven’t seen for probably 60 or 70 years — had all but buried that jaded sentiment once and for all.
Nope. The Gen-Z kids are going to stomp on the Millennials’ throats and pour acid all over their hopes, dreams and pretensions of an earnest and hopeful world. Then they’ll laugh mockingly at the Gen-Xers as we’re exposed for the amateurs that we are, and will rhetorically kill us, like some warrior coming back to vanquish their sensei. The only saving grace is that whatever Boomers are still left as this happens will just die of shock and outrage. Gen-Z will not be attending their funerals either unless they need some pics of dead grandpa for a devastating meme or two (Carlo has already told my father that he’s going to meme him once he passes away; my father does not quite know what to make of that, mostly because he’s 74 and does not know what a meme is).
Anyway, I’ve blocked out most of what they had to say during the game as a means of psychological self-defense, but trust me when I say that it was three straight hours of running commentary at turns hilarious, frightening and truly disturbing in ways that are hard to pin down. I do, however, remember or have documentation of a few things that went down in between the hot dogs and bon mottes:
My son is well aware of my Chief Wahoo stance and, thankfully, agrees with it. Nevertheless, he kept threatening to say “my dad said you’re a racist” to everyone who was wearing Wahoo gear because he said it’d be fun to see what happened. Which, given that he’s basically an agent of chaos — here’s a video of him in action — was a fairly plausible threat. Thankfully he did not do it;
My daughter said to my son that Orioles’ outfielder Joey Rickard looked like “that kid Kyle, in your grade.” My son agreed. For the rest of the game, every time Rickard came up, they yelled “don’t mess up, Kyle!” Rickard went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and all the way home they would fill silences with “Dammit, Kyle” and shake their heads after which they’d laugh hysterically. They then said that, at school today, they were going to tell Kyle he sucked but not tell him why. I think it’s 50/50 that they do it;
Slider, the Indians’ mascot came up to our section. This is a screencap from my daughter’s Snapchat:
All of that being said, I don’t want you to get the impression that Anna and Carlo’s entire existence is savage owns and joking and ironic detachment. They are actually smart, sweet and sensitive kids who, when they’re not joking around, possess more empathy for their fellow humans than most adults who have seen and experienced far more than they have do. I am proud of my kids for that. Truly proud. Indeed I worry that the jaded exterior I’ve been describing is a defensive perimeter they and their generation have been forced to erect because the generations which came before them have thrown so much fear into their world and, perhaps, are even ruining it before my kids get a chance to live in it as adults. That’s a lot to put on anyone, but the fact that we’ve put that sort of weight on our children is a tragedy. Knowing that the’ll have to cope with what we have done to make their lives harder and, quite possibly, shorter, breaks my heart.
Those thoughts were swirling around my head as the game neared its end Friday evening. As they did, I looked over to Carlo and Anna sitting next to me. They were watching the game intently. And, even though it had started raining, quite contently. They seemed happy. The cynicism and the wiseguy routines had been left back in the middle innings somewhere. When Cody Allen struck out Kyle, er, I mean Joey Rickard, for the game’s final out, they both stood up and cheered a genuine and exuberant cheer. When they did, I figured it was a good opportunity for some rare heartfelt sincerity.
“So, Baseball. You like it, eh?” I said in my proudest dad voice, thinking that, just maybe, we had bonded over something near and dear to my heart. Anna looked at me and smiled. Then she said something I’ll never forget.
“Not really. But I guess I sort of have to respect it because if it wasn’t for baseball you’d be unemployed and I’d probably be homeless.”