Florida Fire Frogs center fielder Ronald Acuna didn't get off to an ultra-fast start in April, but that really didn't matter. The 19-year-old Braves prospect had already turned heads with what he did in March during Major League Spring Training.
Acuna got into 13 Grapefruit League games and posted a .296/.387/.444 line. Among his eight hits were two doubles and a triple and he drove in three runs. More than mere stats, though, was the way Acuna carried himself at such a young age and the skill set he displayed.
So impressive was Acuna that former Braves center fielder Andruw Jones' name came up more than once in assessing the native of Venezuela's potential.
"We were all talking about that," Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Everybody said, 'He reminds me of Andruw.' Now Andruw probably had more power, but there are a lot of similarities. We told Andruw that."
High praise indeed, but a little unfair as well to Acuna, who started this season as the youngest player in the Class A Advanced Florida State League.
Jones, after all, hit home runs in his first two at-bats for the Braves in the 1996 World Series against the New York Yankees at age 19.
Acuna came into this season with just 40 regular-season Minor League games played above the Rookie level. Of course, that's what made Acuna's showing in Grapefruit League games so impressive
"I'm very proud and honored that they gave me an invitation," Acuna said through a translator. "To be honest, I wasn't expecting any of that. I was coming in with the expectation that I was going to the Minor League camp."
After missing three months last season with Class A Rome because of a thumb injury, Acuna recouped most of the lost time and heightened his prospect stock by shining in the Australian Baseball League.
Acuna is listed as the Braves' No. 7 prospect, but that ranking is deceiving. The loaded Atlanta system has eight players ranked on MLB.com's Top 100 list with Acuna at No. 96. Still, the Florida State League can be tough on young hitters, and the Braves knew there could be a learning curve at first for Acuna, who hit .311 for Rome.
There was the first three weeks or so as Acuna struck out 26 times in his first 61 at-bats. He batted .230 with four extra-base hits and had eight stolen bases in nine attempts through his first 15 games.
Acuna, though, is considered to have the highest ceiling of any position player in the Braves system and "could come fast" to the Majors, according to Snitker.
"His skill set is really good," the manager said. "He's a talented kid and I really liked the way he made adjustments on the fly during counts this spring. His aptitude and feel for the game is really advanced for his age. He's good in the outfield and he can fly. He's got all five tools. Now he just needs to play."
Easing back in: Max Pentecost, the 11th overall pick in the 2014 Draft by the Blue Jays, caught in a Minor League game for the first time since that year when he was behind the plate for Dunedin on April 18. Two labrum surgeries cost the 24-year-old former Kennesaw State standout his once powerful arm, but Toronto's No. 12 prospect was hitting the ball well while also seeing time at DH and first base. Pentecost hit his third homer of the season April 23 and was batting .310 with seven RBIs through 10 games. The right-handed hitter had started two games at catcher and two at first base.
On the mend: Magneuris Sierra, St. Louis' No. 7 prospect, landed on the disabled list with Palm Beach after an impressive Spring Training with the Cardinals. The 21-year-old center fielder was hit in the head by a pitch at Clearwater on April 13 and put in concussion protocol. Sierra was hitting .297 with a .395 on-base percent in nine games for Palm Beach after posting a .387 batting average in 14 Grapefruit League games for St. Louis. He hit .307 with 31 stolen bases last season in the Midwest League.
Running in place: Jorge Mateo, the Yankees' top prospect coming into last season, has started the year back at Tampa after a 2016 that saw the speedy infielder suspended two weeks for insubordination. Mateo, 21, is now No. 4 among Yankee prospects following the team's influx of young talent last year but is still ranked No. 43 on MLB.com's Top 100 list. The native of the Dominican Republic had 11 stolen bases through 16 games despite early strikeout woes. He had fanned 20 times in 67 at-bats and was hitting .224.
Adjusting on the fly: The new Florida Fire Frogs franchise, based at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, made changes to the starting time of first-half games after feedback from fans. Games on Monday through Thursday moved from 6:35 p.m. to 7:05 p.m., while Saturday games will go from 4:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. and Sunday games from 1:05 p.m. to 5:05 p.m. The franchise, which moved from Brevard County, averaged an announced attendance of 1,374 for its first seven games before the time changes.