As expected, the Braves on Monday reassigned outfield prospect Ronald Acuña to minor league camp. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman notes Acuña will need to remain in the minors until at least April 13 if the Braves want to gain an extra year of control.
Acuña, 20, is the Braves’ best prospect and the second-best prospect in baseball behind Shohei Ohtani. He hit .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, 21 home runs, 82 RBI, 88 runs scored, and 44 stolen bases across three levels of the minor leagues last season, and he hit .432 with four homers and 11 RBI in 44 spring at-bats. Acuña has done everything he needs to do to warrant inclusion on the Braves’ Opening Day roster, but he won’t debut in the majors until at least mid-April.
Service time manipulation isn’t a new concept. Teams do it every year with their top prospects. The Cubs famously kept Kris Bryant in the minors until mid-April in 2015 — more on this shortly — after a similar prior year and spring training to Acuña where he set the baseball world on fire. The MLBPA filed a grievance on Bryant’s behalf but it didn’t amount to anything. Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year Award that year.
Clubs are incentivized to keep good players in the minor leagues for longer than is necessary, which means they are not putting their best product on the field. That’s a raw deal for fans as well as the players being manipulated in this way. This should be one of many things the union fights to change when the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021.
Update: This is laughable, but Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos can’t just outright admit they’re keeping Acuña down to manipulate his service time.