April 25 was huge. But April 26 turned out to be even bigger. It was like a mixtape from Barney Stinson. Rather than rise-and-fall, it was all rise, baby. Just to be clear, that’s two How I Met Your Mother references in one week. You just don’t get that at Talking Chop or Tomahawk Take.
Ronald Acuña Jr.‘s debut on Wednesday night was a success. Oh, sure, some negative Nancys talked about how he struck out twice or didn’t have a big hit with runners on and I’ll get back to those people in a second, but Acuña Jr. flashed the kind of stuff that should make him a big-time performer in the majors even when he doesn’t get a big knock. His speed on the bases is unreal. Quietly, over the last couple of seasons, the Braves have added just crazy elite speed. I’ll also get back to that.
The outfielder from Venezuela was flawless in the field as well. He’s a true five-tool player who, even when two tools take the night off, his other tools will shine and shine ever so brightly.
But it was yesterday that we saw a bit more of the other two tools that too many people complained about that were missing in action on Wednesday. For the record, one person is “too many people” in my book. In the second inning, with the Braves already up, Acuña Jr. waited on a reeling Homer Bailey to make a mistake and on a 3-1 pitch, he did. First off, let’s take one moment to consider that the Reds starter not only went slider 2-1, but 3-1, against a rookie with less than a handful of at-bats in the majors. The slider was a hanger, but the respect there says something to me. The ball was crushed, landing in the sparsely occupied upper deck with a Braves fan making a nice catch on it.
In the sixth, Acuña Jr. got another base hit. On a 2-2 pitch, he pulled a pitch into the hole. Former Braves prospect Jose Peraza did well to keep it on the infield, but Acuña Jr. is pretty fast. And again, so are the Braves. According to Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed, recently DFA’d Peter Bourjos had been the fastest Brave at 29.3 ft/sec – good for 13th overall – but Dansby Swanson isn’t far behind at 29.2 ft/sec. Nor is Ozzie Albies, who checks in at 29.1 ft/sec. While it’s a super small sample size, Statcast clocked Acuna Jr.’s sprint from first-to-third on Wednesday night at 30.3 ft/sec. To put it mildly – the boy got vroom.
Acuña Jr.’s third hit came two innings later and put the Braves on top. The Reds got the ball in on him, but Acuña Jr. fought it off and was strong enough to bloop it into no man’s land in right field. The young outfielder raced into second with an RBI double.
Two days. Four hits. A tape-measure homer. World-class speed. And again, there were people complaining about him on Wednesday night.
Can we have a moment to talk, Braves fans? Cool, thanks, hope you’re having a good morning. Also, if you said something about Acuña Jr.’s performance on Wednesday that was negative at all, please find a nice-sized rock. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but the kind of rock that feels a bit heavy in your hand. Did you get it? Good, thanks. Now bash yourself upside the head.
Honestly, you were a witness to the best prospect in baseball making his major league debut at 20-years-old. A year ago, he was playing in front of crowds in the FLORIDA STATE LEAGUE. Now, he’s playing in front of….well…likely smaller crowds because of the Reds’ continued ineptness, but it’s the friggin major leagues. Brandon Finnegan and Homer Bailey may not be Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, but they are major league pitchers. It’s not easy to get to this level, let alone succeed immediately. That goes double for super-hyped prospects with a huge weight on their shoulders and only 20 years on this Earth. But Acuña Jr. still found a way to get on base, flash amazing speed, and score a big run.
I’m sure you guys that did have something ridiculous to say about Acuña Jr. on Wednesday night were quiet yesterday. After all, what could you possibly complain about? Home run was hit too far? Acuña Jr. was too fast? But if, and it’s okay for this to happen, Acuña Jr. has an 0-ffer today, I want to make one thing clear.
Pipe down your complaints. I’m hardly one of those “rah rah, support your team, rah rah, don’t talk bad about things” guys. I am, though, someone who appreciates great things. You think I went after Albies for his mistakes the other night that helped to cost a game? Nah. He’s 21, he’s going to make mistakes. You think I called Swanson a bust after one subpar season? Nah. He was a rookie. That can happen. You think I’m ready to write off Sean Newcomb after 127.2 innings? Hell nah.
They’re all young, full of potential, and ready to contribute. You don’t know how their career will turn out. I don’t know. I do know it’s common to throw out a hot take, but you sound like a real jackass. Let these guys fail. Let them make mistakes. You think Tom Glavine was hitting a spot six inches off the plate and getting strikes in 1988? You think Greg Maddux was throwing a fastball wherever he wanted in 1987? Or, jeez, do you think Chipper Jones was one of the most feared bats in baseball in 1995? No. Or, better yet, hell nah.
They needed time to develop. But, like with the guys I’ve already mentioned, we saw glimpses of the future. These things don’t happen overnight and save yourself the need for the antacid by letting the bad roll off while waiting for some good. These young kids have shown that you won’t have to wait too long for the next amazing thing to happen.
That’s not to say all of the young guys will develop into All-Stars, let alone Hall of Famers. Many will fail. But you piping up every time they don’t have a huge game is frustrating. What is most frustrating is this is the funniest Braves team in five years. Albies, Swanson, and now Acuña Jr.? Freddie Freeman doing his thing while Kurt Suzuki continues to post absurd numbers? Yeah, yeah, the pen has issues, but every night, this team gives you something positive to take away from it. Sad that they lost, but Swanson laid off a slider he would have swung at last year. Yeah, they didn’t get the W, but Mike Foltynewicz was solid. Unfortunately, they came up on the losing side, but Dan Winkler and Shane Carle were money and kept the team in it.
And despite all of the amazing youth that is now on the 25-man roster, more is on the way. I started this column by saying, “April 25 was huge. But April 26 turned out to be even bigger.” I wasn’t just talking about Acuña Jr. or even the homer from Albies. In West Virginia, the Rome Braves fell 10-8 while the Florida Fire Frogs took care of Lakeland, 8-1. Three things happened in a span of roughly five minutes that you better not ignore. In the second inning of the Rome game, J.C. Encarnacion smacked a homer to left. A strikeout later, William Contreras did the same. Around this time in Lakeland, Cristian Pache hit a bomb to left-center field.
For all three players, it was their first professional home run. It won’t be the last for that trio. They represent the next wave and who knows? The next time Albies, Acuña Jr., Pache, Contreras, and Encarnacion all homer on the same day, it might be part of a blowout win for the Atlanta Braves. If that doesn’t get you excited, you don’t deserve what’s coming for the Braves.