- Gabriel Burns
Freddie Freeman hasn’t seen Ronald Acuna play, but even he couldn’t stop smiling when talking about baseball’s top prospect.
The Braves’ 20-year-old outfield extraordinaire, Acuna is the first name on about every prospect ranking. He’s expected to make his major-league debut in 2018, be it opening day or later.
Count the Braves first baseman among those who hopes Acuna joins the lineup sooner rather than later. Speaking with the media at last weekend’s Chop Fest, Freeman sounded just as excited for Acuna as the average fan.
“We don’t have that big right-handed bat until you-know-who comes along, and hopefully he can make an impact right away,” Freeman said, alluding to Acuna unprompted. “We’re going to have our ups and downs with him. It’ll be his first year learning the system, learning the game, people making adjustments to him.
“But he could be that guy. And hopefully he’s the next Aaron Judge where he can come in and make an impact right away.”
Even for the “temper your expectations” crowd, Freeman’s words are noteworthy. Judge blasted 52 homers last season, helping the Yankees earn a playoff berth and almost winning the MVP in his first full season.
All Freeman has seen of Acuna is home-run clips and highlight videos. But he, like the rest of the organization, is counting on his immediate contribution.
The Braves have the incentive to leave Acuna in the minors for an extra couple of weeks to gain an additional year of control before free agency. It’s a decision made easier if the team still hasn’t emerged as a contender, like these Braves.
Manager Brian Snitker said Acuna could’ve helped last year’s team as a defender, and he expects the outfielder to make cut-downs a tough decision.
“He was a fun kid to watch,” Snitker said. “Very talented, had a great year. It’ll be more fun this year to have him in camp with us every day and to see what the kid brings. Very talented young man. You watch film, but just from last year, you see this kid’s special. He’s got a skill set that’s really good, and it’s going to be exciting to get him out there and watch him go.”
Freeman and Acuna haven’t had much interaction, but as the presumable franchise players, Freeman expects that to change soon.
“He came over a couple times in spring training last year, and I was already out of the game when he came into the game,” Freeman said. “So I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard such amazing things about him, so it’s going to be good. We’ll see. Hopefully he can push his way in a lot quicker.”
The Braves will hope Acuna proves worth the hype. If he is, the team’s a lot closer to pulling out of baseball’s cellar.