Ronald Acuna watches his home run Friday off the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP
Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP

Acuna plays relaxed, shows why he’s No. 1 prospect

The 20-year-old Braves phenom is not baseball’s consensus No. 1 prospect for nothing.

Acuna has nine hits in his past 12 at-bats including a single in a three-run third inning during a 7-5 win against the Pirates Monday at Champion Stadium.

After going hitless in seven at-bats in his first two games this spring, Acuna is 10-for-15 during a six-game hit streak with a home run, two walks, two hit-by-pitches and two strikeouts.

“Holy smokes, that was something else,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the catch he made Sunday against the Marlins, when he raced to the gap and laid out to erase a would-be extra-base hit. “This guy can probably play any outfield spot and be an All-Star.

“All the young guys seem to be settling into this, now it’s not so amped up and the big-league camp thing (wide-eyed) is over and they’re playing baseball.”

Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said, “For me, he’s still got some cleaning up to do with everything. But the kid has absolutely crushed (this spring) because of his ability. There are some things where he may be a little vulnerable at this level. But we’ll see.”

Seitzer said one thing that separates Acuna from some other hugely talented prospects is how he plays the game – free and easy.

“The best thing about that kid is he plays like in the backyard,” Seitzer said. “That’s the big part of what will make him so good is if he goes out and plays, has fun, doesn’t get domed up (intimated or stressed out) -- and from everything I’ve heard, he doesn’t.”

When a reporter commented that it would be interesting to see Acuna face tougher pitchers as spring training progresses, Seitzer cited his at-bats including a long homer to straightaway center field Friday against Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who has a 52-28 career record and 3.56 ERA, and last season rang up 194 strikeouts in 178-1/3 innings. Acuna was 3-for-3 in that game including two hits against Tanaka.

“He went up against Tanaka the other day and frickin’ had great at-bats,” Seitzer said. “And one of the things that has impressed me most about him is his recognition. He sees the ball real early out of the hand. I’m not an eye doctor but I would bet my house he’s got incredible depth perception, because that’s how you see change of velocity, as well as spin. But the change-up versus the heater – he doesn’t get fooled on many change-ups; he sees them early. 

“And that’s something God-given you can’t teach. I can help it, but I can’t make it as good as really good hitters that see off-speed – Nicky (Markakis) sees off-speed really early really good.”

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