Ronald Acuna Jr. has to be on the opening day roster, right?
With another three hits today while playing center field, Acuna Jr. is hitting a robust .432 with a 1.246 OPS. Along the way, he’s belted four homers, stolen four bases, and despite what some critics refer to a “long swing,” has struck out just eight times in 52 plate appearances. He’s looked solid in the field whether he was playing left or right or playing in place for Ender Inciarte in center field. While Braves fans are excited about Ozzie Albies and Sean Newcomb, both who are thriving this spring, no one is more exciting than Acuna Jr.
It’s that last fact that might be forcing the Braves’ hand. Consider what the Braves fans have been dealing with. An offseason where their former General Manager resigned in disgrace before being banned for life. Three years of watching over-the-hill veterans like A.J. Pierzynski, Alberto Callaspo, and Bartolo Colon. Three years of watching non-prospects like Jace Peterson, Williams Perez, and Ryan Weber. After all of this, don’t the Braves owe it to their fans to give us Acuna Jr. when the season opens?
Oh, I understand the financial side of it, believe me. I’ve been saying the same thing for months – losing two weeks of Acuna Jr.’s rookie season in 2018 is a small price to pay to gain his Age-26 season. It makes complete sense to believe this. It makes complete sense to follow through on it.
Until recently, I was fixated on that idea, but then…something happened. Sure, we can’t ignore that Acuna Jr. is absolutely destroying everything he sees this spring. That plays a big role in my mindset right now. But there’s something else. For the fans of this team that has stuck it out, believed in the process, kept hope alive – haven’t we earned the right to watch Acuna Jr.?
And again, I get it. It’s just two weeks.
But sending him to Triple-A ignores the excitement that is building. These Braves aren’t the 2015 Braves where promises that Christian Bethancourt would provide Gold Glove defense were detached from reality. They aren’t the 2016 Braves where Matt Wisler threw the second-most innings. And these Braves aren’t even last year’s club. That one had Dansby Swanson to fall back on as a sign of the future, but not much else. As the season progressed, the major league debuts of Newcomb, Albies, Max Fried, Johan Camargo, A.J. Minter, and Luiz Gohara ushered in a new era of excitement. The Braves of 2018 have depth, are hungry, and if some analysts are right, they could be a sneaky sleeper team if conditions allow.
Losing two weeks of watching Acuna Jr. is the right business choice. Famously, the Cubs did it with Kris Bryant and it worked out for them. But it quite literally is the wrong way to treat your fans – many of whom have grown tired of being told to wait. Rebuilds test the patience and resolve of the fan base, I know. Making knee-jerk reactions aren’t going to help. But then, is rewarding the best prospect in baseball a roster spot after a tremendous spring training truly knee-jerk?
I won’t pout if Acuna Jr. is in the minors when the season opens. I won’t cancel my subscription to MLB.TV, turn this blog into one devoted to Handmaid’s Tale (walk-off June. Walk right out!), and troll the Braves’ Twitter account. Again, I understand the decision should it happen. For a long time, I thought it would be the right one. But from a utility standpoint, I’m not sure anymore. The value of the unknown – an extra year of control – does not outweigh what we know right now. Braves fans have excitement. They have some level of hope. They see light at the end of a long trip through the dark world of tanking.
Pushing them back a few steps and telling them it’s the sensible decision? Potentially angering a franchise star in the making by not rewarding his hard work?
That’s not the way to treat your fans. That’s not the way to treat your most exciting prospect in a decade. And more…that’s just not the way a professional team should operate. Even if it makes sense.