April 25, 2018, could be a big day in Braves franchise history. Sure, it’s just a game against the Reds, who have taken the first two games of a series against Atlanta. But the bigger picture is quite simple. Today is the first day of Ronald Acuña Jr.‘s career.
Yes, ladies and gents, this is legit. It has even been confirmed by all of the Atlanta Braves’ beat writers. Acuña Jr. will join the team and almost surely will be starting as the Braves look to halt a brief losing streak. After a slow start to 2018, Acuña Jr. has hits in seven-of-eight games, hitting .333 in the process. He’s added four walks, a homer, and three stolen bases in that time frame. The top prospect in baseball, who owned spring training to the tune of .432/.519/.727, is on his way to the bigs.
Obviously, there’s a lot to go into what this means. Certainly, it would seem Peter Bourjos or Charlie Culberson is about to become the latest Brave to be designated for assignment. I would imagine it would be Bourjos simply because Preston Tucker is losing his job to Acuña Jr. and Bourjos’ sole value early this season has been as a defensive replacement for Tucker. Not that it really matters because Jose Bautista will replace whoever doesn’t get DFA’d today. There’s even a chance that Bautista could join Acuña Jr., though he’s only 3-for-16 so far with a double, four walks, and three K’s.
We can also get into where Acuña Jr. should hit in the order and all that, but I want to look a little into debut efforts for recent top prospects in Braves’ history instead. This is just a fun exercise. By no means do I think a great debut – or, for that matter, a poor one – will have any impact on the player’s career. Nevertheless, we can compare Acuña Jr.’s debut to those from the past. Here is a list of some modern Braves’ hitters and their debut. Perhaps when Mike Soroka gets his call, I’ll do the same for notable starters in recent history.
Ozzie Albies – August 1, 2017
-Our most recent addition to this group, Albies made his debut at home against Kenta Maeda and the Dodgers. He hit seventh – Danny Santana hit second (lol) – and after a groundout and a flyout, Albies walked against Josh Ravin to open the 8th. He trotted home on an 0-2 homer by Johan Camargo, who was hitting eighth. Atlanta lost 3-2 despite a quality effort by Lucas Sims, who was also making his debut.
Dansby Swanson – August 17, 2016
-With the Twins in town, Swanson was put in the eight hole behind Anthony Recker and Jace Peterson. Kyle Gibson threw a complete game effort and the Twins scored ten times, doing most of their damage against the bullpen – especially Eric O’Flaherty and Jason Hursh. Swanson lined out in his first at-bat, but singled in his second at-bat. He struck out and picked up a second single before the game ended on a Gordon Beckham strikeout.
Andrelton Simmons – June 2, 2012
-Simmons would star in the field, handling five chances perfectly, but his first game in the majors against Stephen Strasburg wasn’t much to write home about at the plate. Simmons hit a trio of weak grounders with the second one turning into a double play. Strasburg threw seven scoreless as the Braves lost 2-0 on the road.
Freddie Freeman – September 1, 2010
-Freeman was a September call-up who was immediately inserted into the lineup. In the first inning, his groundout up the middle ended the inning. Like Simmons, Freeman would fail to get the ball out of the infield. He grounded into a twin killing and then struck out against Pedro Feliciano. In the 8th, with the Braves holding onto a 4-1 lead, Derrek Lee hit for Freeman with a runner on first and two outs. Despite little production from Freeman, Atlanta won 4-1 in no small part because of a 4-for-4 day from…
Jason Heyward – April 5, 2010
-Hard to recall a bigger debut performance and this time, it came on opening day. Batting seventh, Heyward would step into the box after five-of-the-first-six batters had already reached against a beleaguered Carlos Zambrano. On a 2-0 pitch, Heyward launched a three-run bomb to put Atlanta up 6-3. For the first time in years, Turner Field exploded in loud cheers as if the Braves won a playoff game. He’d add an RBI single in the 8th among his other four at-bats as the Braves rolled to a 16-5 win over the Cubs at home.
Jordan Schafer – April 5, 2009
-A year earlier, it was Schafer who was the hyped up outfielder making his debut on opening day. Like Heyward, he made his first batted ball count as he launched a solo home run off Brett Myers. He added a single in the fourth and was even intentionally walked in his debut performance in the sixth. The Braves rolled to a 4-1 win.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia – May 2, 2007
-It’s easy to forget this now, but Saltalamacchia’s debut was a huge deal at the time. That’s not only because it was hilarious watching his name fill up the back of his jersey. Salty was a hot prospect getting his chance because of injury. Facing the Phillies and catching Chuck James, Salty hit 7th. He flew out and walked in his first two at-bats before getting hit by Freddy Garcia in the 6th. That proved big as it loaded the bases. Willie Harris followed with a base hit that scored a pair and the Braves won 4-3. Behind the plate, Salty also threw out Jayson Werth trying to steal.
Jeff Francoeur – July 7, 2005
-The final big debut from the 2005 season was also the biggest. Picked as the face of the Braves for the remainder of the first decade of a new millennium, Francoeur debuted at home against the Cubs. The game was actually the second game of a doubleheader and Atlanta won 6-0 in the first game. Francoeur was hitting seventh and was having a rough debut. After a groundout, his strikeout in the fourth killed a rally with a pair of runners on. He also K’d in the sixth. By the time his fourth at-bat came around, the Braves had erased a 4-3 deficit on a two-run shot by Andruw Jones. Francoeur stepped in with a pair of runners on and one out. He worked the count full against Glendon Rusch before crushing a ball to center field. A packed Turner Field crowd went nuts and Francoeur took a curtain call.
Brian McCann – June 10, 2005
-Hitting eighth and catching Kyle Davies, McCann immediately helped his squad with a RBI base hit in the 2nd. After an intentional pass and a lineout, McCann got back into the hit parade with a single off Huston Street to open the ninth. However, the Braves would fall 6-4 to the A’s after Davies and Roman Colon were charged with a half-dozen runs.
Andy Marte – June 7, 2005
-Three days before McCann, it was Marte’s time. He would be involved in an interesting situation in the fourth inning against Paul Byrd. After Andruw Jones was hit-by-a-pitch and Ryan Langerhans singled, the latter advanced on a throw to third that was late to get Jones. Marte then lifted a 1-0 pitch from Byrd to center field. Steve Finley made the catch and threw to third instead of to home. Jones scored, but Langerhans was caught trying to get to third base. So, kids, it is technically possible to get an RBI out of a double play. Marte went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and that important RBI. The Braves would later win 3-2.
Kelly Johnson – May 29, 2005
-Few guys come up from the minors and are immediately inserted into the third spot in the order, but there was KJ facing the Phillies at home and playing left field. KJ would famously have a prolonged 0-ffer to open his career, but he found other ways to contibute as he walked, brought in a run on a fielder’s choice, and scored in Atlanta’s 7-2 win over the Phillies. He also threw out a future Hall-of-Famer at home in Jim Thome.
Wilson Betemit – May 8, 2004
-This is a bit cheating. Betemit appeared in the majors three years before, but he never started as a 19-year-old. Brought up because of an injury in ’04, Betemit led off and played shortstop against the Astros and Roy Oswalt. After picking up a single in the first, Betemit was held hitless in his next two at-bats until the 8th. With the Braves down by two, Betemit loaded the bases with a walk. Adam LaRoche would single before Oswalt walked Chipper Jones to force a run in. It tied up the score 3-3. Atlanta would later win on an Andruw Jones walk-off homer in the tenth.
Rafael Furcal – April 4, 2000
-Hitting 8th at home against the Rockies, Furcal struck out in his first at-bat. He also grounded out trying to bunt his way on. In the 6th, with the Braves up 3-2, Furcal singled and swiped second, forcing a throw that was sailed into center field. He was stranded, but he showed what his speed could do. He’d had a second hit, but was thrown out this time trying to steal. That potentially was very costly as the Braves were losing 5-3 and it ended the 8th. Atlanta would lose by that score.
Andruw Jones – August 15, 1996
-The first game of the Jones Boys reign actually had both out of their long-time positions. Chipper was playing shortstop to get the recently re-acquired Terry Pendleton into the lineup while Andruw got the start in right field. He hit second and struck out on three pitches to open his career against Curt Schilling of the Phillies. His second at-bat ended in the same way, except he was caught looking rather than swinging through strike three. After a pop-out and a fly-out, Andruw finally got his first hit in the 9th as he singled in Mike Mordecai. The Braves would survive a bullpen meltdown to win 8-5.
Jermaine Dye – May 17, 1996
-Called up to replace an injured David Justice, Dye didn’t actually start this game. Jerome Walton did, but as Walton was prone to doing, the outfielder got hurt and Dye replaced him in the top of the sixth. Facing Marcus Moore in the bottom half, Dye hammered a 1-0 pitch to deep left field for a home run on his first swing of the bat in the majors. Atlanta would roll to an 8-2 win against the Reds.
Chipper Jones – April 26, 1995
-This is cheating again. Chipper appeared in eight games with the Braves in 1993, going 1-for-3 with a walk. His first start didn’t come until opening day of the 1995 season. Hitting third, Chipper singled off Terry Mulholland to score Marquis Grissom. He had another RBI single later as the Braves crushed the Giants 12-5.
Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez – October 1, 1992
-Klesko was already 0-for-8 over 10 games by the time he got his first start. Hitting cleanup with the division clinched, Klesko would remain hitless with an 0-for-4 day at the plate. He did, however, bring a run home after Steve Avery crossed the plate during a forceout at second base. Lopez had a bit more of a solid outing. Like Klesko, he had seen some action before the game and was 1-for-4 coming into his first start. His base hit in the first scored Ron Gant. He added another single, finishing the game 2-for-4. The game would end in the tenth on a Tommy Gregg walk-off homer.
David Justice – May 24, 1989
-Hitting sixth, Justice was 0-for-4 before he singled to lead off the 12th against Randy Kramer. Unfortunately, his time as a baserunner was short-lived as he was caught stealing. He’d be his last at-bat of the day as he was on deck when Andres Thomas grounded out to end the game with the Braves falling 4-1 in 14 innings against the Pirates.
Bonus Historical Choices
Bob Horner – June 16, 1978
-Still a few months from his 21st birthday, Horner was slotted into the lineup against the Pirates and Bert Blyleven. He was hitless over his first two at-bats, but launched a two-run homer in the sixth. But Horner’s effort went for not as the Braves still lost 9-4.
Dale Murphy – September 13, 1976
-It’d be two years before The Murph established himself, but at 20 years-old, he got the start in the night game of a doubleheader. The Dodgers’ Rick Rhoden took the mound. After a second-inning flyout, Murphy’s second at-bat not only produced his first base hit, but his first RBI as he singled in Tom Paciorek to put Atlanta up 1-0. After a strikeout, he faced knuckleballer Charlie Hough next and he drove in Dave May with a single. The Braves didn’t give their young catcher much support and they lost 4-3.
Hank Aaron – April 13, 1954
-Hitting fifth and playing left field, Aaron was the only Braves position player to be held hitless in a slugfest. Five times he came up to the plate for Milwaukee and five times he put the ball in play. None found the outfield grass. Aaron would pick up his first hit two days later and on April 23, he’d hit a solo home run off Vic Raschi. He’d hit two home runs off Raschi during his time in the majors. He’d hit a few more against the other pitchers he faced over his career.
Eddie Mathews – April 15, 1952
-In Boston’s final opening day with the Braves in town, less than five thousand people came to see Mathews, hitting seventh, go 0-for-3 with a walk. On that day, Preacher Roe was just a bit better than Warren Spahn and Boston fell 3-2 to Brooklyn. Mathews would get a pair of singles the next day and in the season’s fifth game, he hit a three-run homer off Philadelphia’s Ken Heintzelman to help start a rally as Boston came from behind to win 9-7.
What debuts are the most memorable to you? And how excited are you for today? Happy Acuña Day to you!