Could it have turned out any other way?A season when Ronald Acuña Jr. rose from the No. 18 prospect in the Atlanta system to the No. 5 prospect overall concluded with the five-tool outfielder going up against the more seasoned and equally touted competition of the Arizona Fall League and
Could it have turned out any other way?
A season when Ronald Acuña Jr. rose from the No. 18 prospect in the Atlanta system to the No. 5 prospect overall concluded with the five-tool outfielder going up against the more seasoned and equally touted competition of the Arizona Fall League and leading the loop in home runs and several other categories.
The AFL named Acuna the Joe Black Most Valuable Player of the 2017 autumn campaign on Saturday, shortly before he took the field with the Peoria Javelinas against the Mesa Solar Sox in the circuit's Championship Game.
"I want to thank God for the opportunity and for winning MVP," Acuna told MLB.com through translator Yoel Monzon. "There's a lot of players here with a lot of talent and it's a privilege to be selected MVP."
The native of Venezuela, who turns 20 exactly one month from Saturday, is the youngest player ever to win the award. He batted .329/.414/.639 over 23 games. His slugging percentage was highest in the league, and, in addition to his seven dingers, he was also tops in total bases (53) and runs scored (22). He was in a three-way tie for most extra-base hits (12).
En route to becoming the top Braves prospect during the regular season, he progressed through three levels, hitting .325/.374/.522 with 21 homers and 44 stolen bases across Class A Advanced Florida (28 games), Double-A Mississippi (57 games) and Triple-A Gwinnett (54 games). At those last two stops, he was the youngest player in the league. The efforts earned him a MiLBY Award as Breakout Prospect of the Year.
"Age doesn't mean a thing," Atlanta director of player development Dave Trembley told MiLB.com. "The special ones don't come along that often, so we have to treat them a little differently. For guys like Ronnie, once they have success, we want to put them right away into a situation where they'll be challenged. That doesn't work for everyone. For the special ones, it does."
Last year, top Yankees prospectGleyber Torres was the AFL MVP. White Sox outfielder Adam Engel won the award in 2015, the Yankees' Greg Bird took it the year before that and the Cubs' Kris Bryant earned the honor in 2013.
The league also bestowed upon the Mariners' Eric Filia, also of Peoria, the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award, given to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership during the six-week circuit. The award is named for a Red Sox prospect killed in Chandler, Arizona while playing in the AFL in 2003.
Filia, Seattle's No. 24 prospect, was first with a .408 batting average and a .483 on-base percentage and tied with Kansas City prospect Nicky Lopez for the league lead in hits (31).
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB.