We conclude our All-Decade Team with a talented group of outfielders.
Ronald Acuña Jr. - Quite possibly the MVP of the All-Decade squad, Acuña swiftly made his way through the Atlanta farm system on his way to the majors in 2018. Acuña played just 57 games with the M-Braves in 2017, but those two months were quite possibly the most productive 62 days in club history. The 19-year-old was twice named Southern League Player of the Week, first earning the honor after batting .560 with six runs and 10 RBI from May 9-14, his first week in the league. He garnered the award again two weeks later after hitting .417/.400/.667 from May 22-28, also earning Southern League All-Star honors, despite not playing the first month in the league. Acuña hit .326 with 14 doubles, a triple, nine home runs, 30 RBI, 19 stolen bases, and a .895 OPS for the M-Braves before being promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on July 13, after participating in the Futures Game.
Acuña was named Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today, Hitting Prospect of the Year by MLBPipeline.com and Organizational Player of the Year by the Braves.
Acuña was promoted to Atlanta on April 25, 2018, and he made his MLB debut that night at Cincinnati at the age of 20 years, 128 days. Acuña finished his first major league season, hitting .293 with a team-high 26 home runs and a .917 OPS in 111 games. He won the National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award, collecting 27 of 30 first-place votes. In his first two seasons, the young phenom has hit .285 with 48 doubles, 67 home runs, 165 RBI, 53 stolen bases, and a .897 OPS in 267 games. This past season, Acuña was named an NL All-Star, Silver Slugger, and led the league in stolen bases (37), runs scored (127), and finished fifth in home runs (41). He also finished fifth in NL MVP voting, and the dynamic leadoff man fell just short in his pursuit for a 40-40 season, smacking 41 homers with 37 steals.
Travis Demeritte - In just two seasons with Mississippi, Demeritte set the career home run record with 32 long balls. Splitting time between second base and third base in 2017, he hit 15 home runs in 124 games and hit 17 blasts in 2018 over 128 games as an outfielder. Demeritte became just the fourth M-Braves player since 2005 to record 16 homers in a single season and was named a Southern League All-Star. He led the club in runs (69), extra-base hits (44), home runs (17), RBI (63), total bases (178), games (128), and walks (57). Demeritte had 43 doubles, 11 triples, 32 homers, 108 RBI and a .720 OPS over 252 games.
On July 31, Demeritte was traded along with Joey Wentz to the Tigers in exchange for Shane Greene. At the time of the trade, he was hitting .286 with 24 home runs and 74 RBI for Triple-A Gwinnett. On August 1, the Tigers selected Demeritte's contract and promoted him to the major leagues to take the place of outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, who was also traded on July 31. He made his major league debut on August 2 against the team that drafted him, the Rangers, hitting a triple off Lance Lynn for his first MLB hit. On August 8, against the Royals, Demeritte hit his first major league home run. In 169 at-bats for the Tigers, Demeritte hit .225 with three home runs and 10 RBI.
Mallex Smith - Like Acuña, Smith made the most of his time in Mississippi - and then some. Over 57 games at the beginning of 2015, Smith hit .340 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs, 22 RBI, 23 stolen bases, 35 runs scored and a .830 OPS. Smith was named a Southern League All-Star but was promoted to Triple-A before the game was played. Smith came back to Mississippi for five rehab games in 2016 and hit .438.
The Braves promoted Smith to the major leagues on April 11, 2016. He debuted that night against the Nationals, starting in center field, going 1-for-3 in his first game, with a strikeout and a single against Max Scherzer. On January 11, 2017, the Braves traded Smith, along with Shae Simmons, to the Mariners in exchange for minor-league pitchers Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows. On November 8, 2018, the Rays traded Smith back to the team that drafted him, the Mariners. In 2019, Smith led the majors with 46 stolen bases and, in 2018, finished second in the AL with 40. He led the league in 2018 with ten triples. In 428 games for the Braves, Rays, and Mariners, Smith is a career .259 batter with 61 doubles, 27 triples, 13 homers, 111 RBI, 118 stolen bases, and a .696 OPS.
Drew Waters - The final member of the All-Decade squad is the only M-Brave ever to be named league MVP and just the second to win the batting title. In 2019, Waters led the Southern League in several offensive categories, despite a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett on August 5. In 108 M-Braves games, the 20-year-old finished the season by leading the league in batting average (.319), hits (134), doubles (35), triples (9) and extra-base hits (49). He finished among the top ten in slugging (2nd, .481), OPS (2nd, .847), total bases (3rd, 202), runs (T-5th, 63) and OBP (8th, .366).
Waters' MVP award was the first for the franchise since Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez won league MVP in 1991-92 for the Greenville Braves. Waters was the youngest, at 20, to win MVP since Montgomery's Delmon Young claimed the honor in 2005. He became the first player in the Southern League and Double-A baseball to the 100-hit mark on June 30 and the first player in MLB and MiLB to 120 hits on July 13 in his 89th game. The Woodstock, GA native ended the season with 134 games between Mississippi (108), and Gwinnett (26) ranked among the MiLB leaders in doubles (T-3rd, 40), hits (5th, 163), at-bats (6th, 163) and games (T-7th, 134).
In a pitcher's league, Waters had a league-best 18-game hitting streak that began on June 4, batting .417 with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, nine RBI, 12 runs, four walks, and a .462 OBP. The streaks were the longest this season in the Southern League, and the on-base streak was third-longest in club history. Waters has extended his streak 14 times during his first at-bat.
Honorable Mention: Willie Cabrera, Todd Cunningham, Mycal Jones, Connor Lien, Tyler Neslony, Cristian Pache, Antoan Richardson
Schedule of All-Decade Team Announcements:
Monday, December 16 - Starters (5)
Thursday, December 19 - Bullpen (5)
Friday, December 20 - Catchers (2)
Monday, December 23 - Infield (6)
Thursday, December 26 - Outfield (4)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.