When the Braves broke camp, the front office was questioned heavily with regards to their intentions for top prospect Ronald Acuna, who destroyed major league pitching all spring. There was an obvious desire to see Acuna make the roster out of Spring Training, but an understanding that with the current makeup of service time rules, the club would benefit from bringing up the 20-year-old at a later date. The advantages gained by holding Acuna down came into effect during the team’s trip to Chicago, and now the fan base is clamoring for the organization to promote their young phenom. The front office has yet to comment on the situation, but is it possible that Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves front office are being prudent by waiting?
When Alex Anthopoulos became the Toronto Blue Jays general manager in 2009, he inherited a middling farm system, but one that included a top-10 outfield prospect, much like his current post in Atlanta. The Blue Jays were excited about the potential of 20-year-old Travis Snider, who destroyed minor league pitching to the tune of a .278/.358/.480 line with 23 home runs and 91 RBI in 2008. Snider’s strikeout rate was alarming, but MLB.com rated him as the seventh-best prospect in baseball nonetheless. His gaudy numbers across three levels (A+, AA, AAA) earned Snider a September call-up that season, as he debuted at 20 years old for an underwhelming Blue Jays team.
Over the course of eight major league seasons, Snider would produce at a level slightly below league average, which was disappointing given his prospect profile. Could Snider have benefited from a more deliberate path to the major leagues? Possibly. The risks associated with aggressively promoting 20-year-old phenoms to the major leagues likely became painfully apparent to Alex Anthopoulos as he navigated the highs and lows of Snider’s tenure in Toronto. Does this past experience give Anthopoulos pause when considering the promotion of Acuna?
With Acuna getting off to a slow start with Triple-A Gwinnett, many fans assumed that the organization would simply wait until he had proven himself to be comfortable at that level again before bringing him to Atlanta. After a year that saw him produce at three levels and a Spring Training that saw him become the best player in the Grapefruit League, it would be safe to assume (or hope) that the organization is not going to place this much stock in an eight game sample at Gwinnett. Maybe Acuna has some aspect of his game that the organization is not yet comfortable exposing to the major leagues. After watching Travis Snider struggle with strikeouts in the minor leagues, then later in the major leagues, Anthopoulos may feel that whatever issues Acuna may have could represent a huge downfall in his career if not corrected in the minor leagues.
Much like the rest of the Braves’ fan base, I am just speculating as to what could be behind the front office’s decision to keep Acuna in Triple-A. But having a cautionary tale like Snider may be enough to give Alex Anthopoulos pause with regards to promoting young players who produce at an exceptional level at such a young age. A 20-year-old is hardly a finished product in most cases, and while Acuna appears to be a slam dunk star to most patrons, the organization could feel that his game needs refining. The answer will not likely become public knowledge, but examining the history of the new general manager and how his past experiences could shape his decision making process, there may be some correlation between Snider’s struggles and Anthopoulos’ hesitancy.
If Acuna is promoted this week, then we can scrap this article because that would signal that the organization is not worried about his development, his makeup, or him becoming Travis Snider. But with each passing day that Acuna remains in Gwinnett, intensifying will be the probability that the organization is not fully comfortable handing the reigns to a player so young and, potentially, with a weakness. Alex Anthopoulos may receive a large share of criticism in the coming days or weeks, but that hardly means that he is unwise for exercising caution with his most prized asset. This situation may be resolved today, but regardless of the outcome, trust the scouting department in their assessments, trust Anthopoulos in his trepidation, and trust Acuna to let the organization know when he is ready.