- By David O'Brien The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Braves outfield prodigy Ronald Acuna, named this week as the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball America, is among 21 non-roster invitees to Braves spring training and will undoubtedly be the most watched.
There are other prospects, including some other elite ones, among the non-roster invitees announced Friday, including pitching prospects Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and Kyle Wright; catchers William Contreras and Alex Jackson; infielder Austin Riley, and outfielders Cristian Pache and Dustin Peterson.
But none quickens the collective pulse of Braves Country like Acuna, the most eagerly anticipated homegrown Braves prospect since Jason Heyward, the last Braves prospect rated No. 1 overall by Baseball America.
He’ll compete for a spot on the opening-day roster, though it’s possible the Braves will decide to keep him in Triple-A for a couple of weeks to assure they have an extra (seventh) year of contractual control before free agency. There’s also a chance they could decide he needs more minor league seasoning, though most who saw him play in the past year believe Acuna is ready for the majors.
Acuna, who turned 20 a month ago, hit a combined .325 with eight triples, 21 homers, 82 RBIs and 44 stolen bases in 139 games for three Braves minor league affiliates in 2017, starting the season in high Single-A and performing better at each step after being promoted to Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.
Competing against players who were mostly three to five years older than him in Triple-A, Acuna hit a sizzling .344 with 25 extra-base hits (nine homers) and a .940 OPS in 54 games for Gwinnett. Then he went to the Arizona Fall League and hit .325 with a league-leading seven home runs in 23 games while posting a .414 OBP and 1.053 OPS (second in the AFL) to become the youngest-ever MVP in that prospect-filled league.
Other Braves non-roster spring training invitees who made Baseball America’s Top 100 list were Soroka (No. 27), Wright (34), Riley (54) and Allard (65). The Braves had eight prospects in BA’s Top 100 and no other organization had more than six.
Left-handed prospects Luiz Gohara, who was ranked No. 23 in the Top 100, and Max Fried (No. 72), already are on the Braves’ 40-man roster after making their debuts late last season. Gohara is a favorite to win a rotation spot and Fried could earn a spot in the rotation or bullpen.
Others receiving non-roster spring training invitations were left-hander Phil Pfeifer; right-handers Josh Graham, Luke Jackson, and Miguel Socolovich; catchers Rob Brantly, Tyler Marlette and Kade Scivicque; infielders Christian Colón, Ray-Patrick Didder and Sean Kazmar; and outfielders Jaff Decker and Danny Santana.
Braves pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 13 at Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Other position players report Feb. 18, and the first full-squad workout is Feb. 19.